Editor of the Onion peels her layers in Maroon interview

By Daniel Gilbert

The Onion does not have a particular political agenda, according to its Editor-in-Chief, Carol Kolb, though the political leanings of most of its writers are fairly evident. “We try not to be too preachy and heavy-handed,” Kolb said. “We actually avoid being too political. Our number-one job at the Onion is to be funny, and there are silly things about both sides, which we like to point out.” She admitted that in the publication’s opinion, “one side may be stupider than the other.”

Kolb and Amie Barrodale, the associate editor, will present a lecture entitled “Behind the Scenes with America’s Funniest News Source: the Onion,” on Monday, October 18, at the International House at 6 p.m.

In a telephone interview, Kolb spoke about her personal background, and commented on the Onion’s role in society.

The Onion began as a satirical newspaper in Madison, Wisconsin in 1988. Kolb, a native of Madison, first began writing for the Onion when she graduated from the University of Wisconsin in Madison in 1996, where she obtained degrees in English and education. Prior to writing for the Onion, Kolb had never written for a newspaper or other publication. There was, however, some comedic writing associated with the Madison Museum of Bathroom Tissue, a museum of various brands of toilet paper which Kolb and her friends created before she joined the Onion staff.

Kolb, now the editor-in-chief for a year and a half, finds little time to pursue hobbies outside work. “A typical day for me involves meeting with writers, or just sitting alone at my desk in front of a computer all day, putting commas in, deciding which jokes are funny, or making them funny,” Kolb said.

Despite the humdrum routine, Kolb enjoys her work. “I like to make jokes that people read all over America,” she said. “It’s fun to write jokes for a living.”

She said that the work she is most proud at the Onion is the book Our Dumb Century, published in 1999. In terms of articles and headlines, a particular favorite of hers is “Bush Won’t Stop Asking Cheney If We Can Invade Yet.”

Regarding the often offensive content of the Onion’s articles, Kolb explained how she and her staff created humor out of such situations. “The thing to be careful about is making sure you target the right side,” she said. “Sometimes the situation is so dark, the humor comes from laughing about how fucked-up things are. But you always have to be careful of whom the joke is at the expense of.”

Kolb also spoke about the articles the Onion published following 9/11, which were the basis for some of its most popular issues. Initially, Kolb and the other writers were hesitant to write about the tragedy. “You feel self-important,” she said. “It was just such a huge event. It was the only thing anyone was thinking about, so therefore, there was no way not to comment on it. The way we comment on things is to make jokes.”

Kolb admitted to feeling nervous about the response that the post-9/11 articles might elicit. “We never care about offending people usually,” she said. “But we were very nervous that people would take it the wrong way.” Kolb felt a “great sense of relief” when the first positive e-mails came in. She described the response as 95 percent positive, much more popular than the Onion’s regular issues.

“We got some touching e-mails from people who had actually lost loved ones, and it is an incredible feeling to know that we had done some good for someone,” Kolb said.

For Monday’s lecture, Kolb and Barrodale plan to talk about the genesis of the Onion, while going through some of its greatest hits. Kolb described the lecture as “infotainment,” and noted that the focus will be the Onion’s role in the media, and perhaps something regarding the presidential elections. “After all, there is no way not to comment on what everyone is thinking about,” she said.