Recently, we got our hands on a copy of The Onion‘s newest book… and it’s an atlas. Our Dumb World has a simple enough style. It’s an atlas — written Onion style. By the writers of The Onion.
The Onion was kind enough to offer a few sample pages from the book too.
But, as media geeks, we felt the need to call up Onion EIC Scott Dikkers and talk shop.
Below, FBNY discusses Slovenia, the age gap in comedy, the profitability of print media and a few other things with Dikkers.
FBNY: Where did the idea for doing Our Dumb World come from?
SD: I believe it just came out of my head. Our last original book was a history of the 20th century (Our Dumb Century) and for this book we wanted to do something similar for the brand. I was thinking about how the Times of London puts out an atlas and the idea that The Onion puts itself out there as the beacon of truth that’s handed down from on high. So anything we do that’s pretentious or overblown, to us, is kind of part of the joke. That’s the genesis of the atlas.
FBNY: What was the creative process behind making a satirical atlas like?
SD: What was it like? Do you know what it’s like to bang your head against a concrete wall until you die of a brain hemmorhage? That’s similar, I would say, to what it was like to make this atlas. There’s really nothing inherently funny about land masses, the country of Slovenia or any of the hundreds of thousands of independent island natives. The creative process was pretty painful and a lot different than it is from putting together The Onion‘s newspaper and website each week. In that instance, we’re working with current events, people in the news, entertainment, science and things you can wrap your brain around. To our knowledge, noone in the history of comedy has ever written a joke about Burkina Faso. But here we were, faced with the fact of writing an entire page about Burkina Faso. Every country in the world has its own page, like in a real political atlas… Yeah, it was a challenge, I’ll give it that.
FBNY: I’m guessing the book was written by Onion staffers from the paper?
SD: Correct. The same people who work on the paper worked on the book.
FBNY: What do you think the biggest difference between working on this book and Our Dumb Century or You Are Worthless was?
SD: With Our Dumb Century, it was similar in scope and the idea of covering a really large topic. In addition, the writing staff changed. There are very few people around now who were there when Our Dumb Century came out, not including me. That was pretty different. A lot of the people who worked on this book were new writers, who you know are very young… They were barely out of junior high school when the first edition of Our Dumb Century came out. It was a little different then, since Our Dumb Century was put out by people who were all the same age, living in Madison, WI and working for The Onion. At the time, we were unknown… I mean, it’s a lot bigger, now we’re in New York City and the writers are probably a little more amibitious.
As far as You Are Worthless, I’m surprised you even know of the existence of that book. (Ed’s note: See kids – working at a bookstore when you were in college did pay off!) That was a book I did on my own a while back, totally wrote it by myself. I mean, I decided to write a self-help book that was more of a self-hurt book to make fun of people who read them.
MB: This being your second time around at The Onion… Now you’ve got the Onion News Network, the web edition and here in New York, you’re a bona-fide alt-weekly. What are the biggest differences now compared to when The Onion was back in Madison?
SD: I guess much of what I mentioned before about the younger, newer, more ambitious staff. Being in New York is not too different from being in Madison. When it comes to the material, we’re still exposed to the same general things in the news like political news and pop culture news. The social satire is still observational; you can pick that up anywhere. The only real difference is that the paychecks are written out by computer now; they were written by crayon back when we were in Madison.
MB: Does The Onion have plans to launch any additional local print editions in 2008?
SD: Yeah! We’ve got a lot of plans for that. Print editions, as much as you might think otherwise, like that as a medium for newspapers it’s really dying — The Onion‘s newspapers do pretty well. It’s a money making venture for the business-minded folks who run this operation. So, yeah, we’re looking at a lot of different cities to start up new print editions in.
MB: Great, that should wrap things up. Thanks, Scott.