On June 21 The Paley Center in midtown hosted a panel of staff from The Onion, America’s most prominent satirical newspaper. Hosted by Anderson Cooper, the group was funny, informative, and uncensored. The panel was assembled to celebrate The Onion’s 1,000th issue, an impressive milestone for the 23-year-old paper that got its start as a college press in 1988.
The panel included Features Editor Joe Garden, Sports Editor John Krewson, Editorial Manager Kate Palmer, Head Writer Seth Reiss, and Associate Editor Will Tracy. Garden and Krewson have both been with the paper from the early days when they were undergrads in Madison, Wisconsin and chose The Onion over the more traditional school paper. Kate Palmer is currently the only woman on staff (though there are female contributors) and talked about getting her job “the old fashioned way,” by applying and interviewing, as opposed to through connections or by starting out as an intern. When the panel was asked about their diversity on staff, Seth Reiss joked, “We have white people, and we have VERY white people.”
Unlike regular newspapers, The Onion starts with headlines and gets to the stories later. Every Monday morning the writers bring in their headlines and after a long meeting they have gone from a few hundred to no more than fifteen. From there the writers make notes and suggestions about what to include in the actual story, and then the writers split up and get their drafts written. The paper covers social issues, politics, and often overlooked stories, like a man unable to find a rubber band in his office, which was covered by the story “Rubber Band Needed” in April 2008. Reiss noted that The Onion does not associate with one political party and that in fact, no matter who you are, “If you’re acting like an idiot, you get made fun of.”
Anderson Cooper was as likable as he always is and easily adopted the casual and funny tone of his panel. They went through a number of The Onion’s most memorable headlines. Appropriately, one of them read “Afghan Warlord Takes Anderson Cooper as 43rd Wife.” Cooper joked about how calm he looks in the picture associated with the article and then, as if the crowd could be any more pleased, he said of the Afghan Warlord, “He was a gentle lover.”
During the Q&A, one audience member asked what the current size of the staff is and Seth Reiss answered that they are between eight and ten people. He then looked towards the veteran editors on the panel and said that it was actually very interesting because that’s not much different from the size of the staff in the early days. Cooper immediately said with a straight face, “Actually, that’s not really very interesting. If it was, I would’ve asked the question.”
Who would have thought that Anderson Cooper’s sense of humor would stand out so much when he was surrounded by some of America’s funniest comedy writers? It says a lot about a panel and its moderator when an audience member has to remind herself that she’s not in her living room and that these are not her friends. The Paley Center put on a great show, and Anderson Cooper inadvertently did some get promotion for his new talk show coming out this fall.