Immediately after ~ 9/11, humorists struggled through what countless called ‘the fatality of irony.’ then ‘The Onion’ returned and showed anyone the way


On September 27, 2001, the satirical newspaper The Onion released a brand-new issue complying with a short hiatus because of the September 11th terrorist attacks. It to be a precarious time in comedy, with countless humorists having yet to return and guys favor Letterman and Jon Stewart deciding to play it straight rather of cracked a joke. But in their an initial issue back, The Onion walk what it always did — the told jokes. V headlines like “Life transforms Into poor Jerry Bruckheimer Movie” and “Not knowing What else to Do, woman Bakes American-Flag Cake,” The Onion discovered the pitch-perfect way to strategy humor in a really sensitive time. Now, nearly twenty years later, the worry is widely taken into consideration to be critical part that comedy background — even vital part of the wider cultural background surrounding 9/11.

You are watching: Onion 9/11

While The Onion’s headquarters back in 2001 might have remained in downtown Manhattan, to obtain the appropriate context for their landmark issue, the story doesn’t begin in brand-new York. Instead, it starts in Madison, Wisconsin, whereby The Onion operated from 1988 until just a couple of months before the 9/11 attacks.

Founded in the late 1980s by university of Wisconsin students Tim Keck and also Christopher Johnson, The Onion was born as a weekly humor publish publication at their college campus. A year after its debut, Keck and Johnson sold the file to humorist Scott Dikkers and also publisher Peter Haise, who, end time, managed The Onion’s transformation into a more satirical type of comedy. 

Robert Siegel, The Onion writer, 1994 come 2003; Editor in Chief, 1996 to 2003: The hoax was constantly that The Onion to be a bunch the Midwest slackers. The was really different indigenous The nationwide Lampoon, wherein there were all these ambitious eastern Coast world fighting to it is in the peak guy. It no competitive like that. The profile of the usual Onion writer was that they to be marginally employed and maybe they had completed their education at the university of Wisconsin. Ns guess I had actually a little modicum that ambition and also that was sufficient to distinguish me to become the editor. Plus, no one else really want to it is in the editor.

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A page from The Onion‘s Our Dumb Century

It was much more wacky and also silly 보다 it was satirical earlier then, more of a parody that The Weekly people News. The bite the it at some point had wasn’t yes, really there in the beginning. I’m not trying come take credit for it, yet during mine time there, I observed it take it on a more political point-of-view. The Onion didn’t begin with any kind of sort the agenda. It wasn’t started by human being that were trying to say anything. It was really just started together something come put around all the pizza coupons. The civilization who began it wanted to have actually a newspaper and they knew they wanted to sell local advertising, and they simply needed something to put around the regional advertising and also this silly, fake news layout emerged.


Todd Hanson, The Onion head writer, 1990 to 2017: I join The Onion in the loss of 1990, however I operated there for 7 years without it really being mine job. It wasn’t until 1997 the we got to stop our day jobs. Prior to that, that was like being in a garage band. It to be something that you did for fun with your friends and also nobody had actually a full time job there except for the editor in chief, the publisher and also the assistant editor.

It wasn’t prefer we were doing this since we to be looking to have actually a career in comedy or anything favor that. I mean, none of us had a comedy background, and none that us had actually a journalism background. The was just a creative, fun point to do. A lot of us had been cartoonists for the campus papers. The was prefer being in a absent ‘n’ role band that you don’t arrangement on ever before paying the rent with. 

From 1990 to 1997, I had working-class jobs like the remainder of the staff did. I operated retail, i washed a lot of dishes — a many minimum-wage jobs. In 1997 The Onion to be doing well enough that lock hired us full-time, and that started what ns think of as type of the glory work of The Onion. It to be wonderful because you didn’t need to work 40 hours a week making minimum wage in order to pay your rent, you could just do The Onion, therefore it was a pretty good moment in our lives.

Maria Schneider, The Onion writer, 1991 come 2008; freelance contributor 2009 to present: I join in 1991 or 1992 and also I started as a part-time contributor. They to be in this cheapy tiny office on State Street in Madison. It to be very small back then, with just a pair of people on the permanent staff. Beforehand on, The Onion was much more of a supermarket tabloid layout like the Weekly people News, and also we switched to more of a difficult news format approximately 1995 or 1996. Ns joined the staff full-time approximately 1997, as soon as The Onion had obtained some nationwide attention and was contracted because that our very first book, ours Dumb Century.

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Page from Our Dumb Century

Mike Loew, graphic editor/writer for The Onion, 1993 to 2007: I started writing for The Onion in 1993, and also I knew numerous of these men as early as 1991, since I thrived up in Appleton, Wisconsin and also then went to college in Madison. We had two great student papers going daily and also I join up at The everyday Cardinal and also met several people who would move over come The Onion. That’s whereby a lot of The Onion civilization got their begin — they to be cartoonists and some the the funniest people at The everyday Cardinal.


In 1996, the file went native looking prefer The Weekly human being News to USA Today, which to be Scott Dikkers’ idea. That’s once the file went to full color, and also I was asked to end up being the graphic editor. Earlier then, the paper came in two sections — you had actually The Onion and also then you had actually the A.V. Society inside, which was its very own section.

Chad Nackers, The Onion graphic editor/writer 1997 come 2017; Editor in Chief, 2017 come current: At this time and also a couple of years after the 9/11 issue, the website quiet felt second to us. The print worry felt like it was real because you could hold that in her hands, which was usually the case for many publications back then.

In early 2001, the whole writing staff of The Onion relocated to new York City indigenous Madison. Their office to be on 20th Street in Manhattan, yet most uncovered apartments in Park Slope, Brooklyn, which one Onion writer even took come calling “Little Wisconsin.”

Hanson: ns arrived in new York ~ above January 3, 2001. As soon as we moved to new York, every solitary staffer was from Madison. It to be the relocation of an entire staff. I didn’t even think of us as a staff because we no staffed the method a employee is staffed, v interviews and also all that. It was a group of friends. Like, friend don’t, use to be a member that The Ramones, you recognize what i mean? 

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The Onion employee circa 2001. Standing, left come right, Mike Loew, Robert Siegel, Carol Kolb. Seated, left come right, Joe Garden, kris Karwowski, man Krewson, Todd Hanson, Maria Schneider, Tim Harrod. Courtesy that Robert Siegel.

Siegel: As for why The Onion moved to new York, well, i think we all just kind of gained bored of eating at the same three restaurants in Madison. Madison’s great, i love university towns and I love Madison, however there was a specific point where, at the very least speaking for myself, I began to feel old there. Ns was closing in on 30, I’d to be there 6 years. Everyone else had been there longer than that. We all just collectively were all set for a large city adventure. It sort of felt choose Muppets take Manhattan.


Almost as quickly as we arrived at the shores that Manhattan, us were profiled by The brand-new York Times. Us joined the media softball league, and also we were suddenly playing softball versus The brand-new Yorker and also High Times and meeting people and getting invite out places. It was pretty awesome. Because that a moment there, we were the exciting newcomers and everyone want to satisfy us, however then we never ever quite took advantage of that. Us all simply receded into our very own space. We sort of replicated our Madison lives in new York.

Loew: All of united state moved into the very same spot in Park Slope, Brooklyn. John Krewson even came up with calling the ar “Little Wisconsin.”

Carol Kolb, The Onion writer, 1997 come 2005; Editor in Chief, 2003 come 2005; head writer because that The Onion News Network, 2006 come 2012: Moving to new York was great. A lot of us had functioned at The Onion for a lengthy time and also we loved The Onion and also we loved that it was getting some national recognition, yet we were living in our college town and we didn’t desire to live in the same location forever — we want to expand our horizons a little, which brought about us convincing the organization staff the there would be far better business avenues for The Onion in new York. However really, us all simply wanted to relocate to brand-new York, and it worked out. 

New York was an excellent for us, and also then, suddenly, it to be a horrific hellhole.

At 8:46 a.m. On September 11, 2001, American Airlines trip 11 crashed right into the north Tower that the civilization Trade Center. At 9:02 a.m., a second plane fight the south Tower and also America realized the it to be under attack.


John Krewson, The Onion writer, 1991 to 2012: On the morning that September 11th, anyone was yes, really hungover because the night before we’d had actually our brand-new York beginning party and They might Be Giants played. The was sponsored by Johnny Walker and also Mercedes-Benz — it to be at the Bowery Ballroom and we’d stayed up every night and had a good time and drank a ton. Us didn’t recognize it then, that course, but it was the end of the 1990s. It to be our last party of the 1990s, and also the 2000s were around to really fucking begin. 

That morning, ns turned ~ above the TV and also they had Monday Night football wrap-ups ~ above CNN. Climate I experienced the chyron at the bottom the the screen, and also it claimed that a plane hit the human being Trade Center. Ns figured that was more than likely one of the small postcard planes the takes photos of lower Manhattan, however then i craned my neck to view the civilization Trade center out my window, which to be the only buildings in Manhattan that I could see from my window. Ns looked in ~ the pair Towers and one of them had actually a large hole in it and was smoking. I thought, “Wow, that’s no a little plane. What the hell is happening?” 

I ran increase the fire escape to my roof simply in time to see the 2nd plane hit through my binoculars.

Schneider: That morning i woke up yes, really headache-y indigenous the night before and also figured that I’d be late. It to be a beautiful morning; I know everyone claims that, but it really was. I need to have remained in the shower, and also when I obtained out, I’d gained a phone blog post from my sister, who said to revolve on the TV due to the fact that something had actually happened, and also that I may not desire to enter Manhattan today. So i turned top top The now Show and also the first tower had actually just fallen.

Chris Karwowski, The Onion writer 1997 come 2012: A bunch of us went to John’s house afterwards and congregated on his roof. I just remember that the smoke to be blowing right into Brooklyn at that point, with burned pieces of record floating down and also you can just grab record from the buildings.


Loew: Chad and I got in work top top September 12th, and no one else was there. I’ll simply say, us graphics guys, us don’t gain to occupational from home. All of our papers were in ~ the office; we had our big computers the were qualified of crunching Photoshop in those years. The writers could type at home and write in ~ home and email stuff in, but we just couldn’t carry out that v graphics. 

So us were the just two civilization in the office, and there was a black color rainbow that smoke tho hanging end Chelsea. We were just about a small less than 2 miles phibìc of ground zero. Us looked down 10th Avenue, and for miles and miles down that long, directly avenue you could see it was all emergency vehicles. And also that smell, maybe you’ve heard account of the smell, however it yes, really was favor nothing you’d ever before experienced before — like shed hair, hefty metal and fuel. And also all the powderized concrete, the course. The stench of fatality was in the air. 

So, Chad and also I go in, thinking that we were going come start work-related on a brand new issue because this was a Wednesday and also the front page is early on Friday, so we’ve gained two days to bang this out. Rob acquired in touch with us somehow, ns don’t mental how, and also told us we need to take the mainly off, so us were in the office for a couple hours and then went back to Brooklyn and also stayed home for the remainder of the week.

Krewson: Rob Siegel wanted united state to take it the day and also then do an issue the following week, however the worry that we had actually planned to placed out the following day, the Wednesday, never ever saw print, we just canceled the totality thing. Because that one thing, distribution would have been a nightmare. Second of all, we simply didn’t think anyone was prepared for a bunch of wacky jokes the were no longer relevant. 

Tim Harrod, The Onion writer 1997 come 2003: It to be Todd who referred to as me the morning of — after that had spoken to plunder — and he happen on the news that we’re walk to take a main off and also then begin fresh. Therefore it to be the adhering to Monday that us reconvened in the office.


While The Onion employee took the mainly off, the conversation around how to continue with the problem began virtually right after the attacks, with number of staff members discussing just exactly how they’d return.

Hanson: Right away, i was on the phone through Rob Siegel discussing, “What need to we do?” and also I psychic on the phone showing up at the conclusion that, “Well, whatever we do, we’re no going to carry out anything that needs to do with the Towers.” since that would certainly be inappropriate due to the fact that everyone’s traumatized together fuck. Ours normal, irreverent, edgy, cynical, dark feeling wasn’t walk to be emotionally appropriate with this situation.

That only lasted for a very short time, though. Then ns remember there to be a phase whereby we chose we were going to perform one critical story the would attend to the world Trade Center, and also then the rest would be lighthearted ingredient that would certainly take people’s mental off their troubles. Climate we immediately realized that that no going to work because there wasn’t anything else relevant. And so, we had determined that we’re law the entire issue around one topic, which no something the we ever did back then — or perhaps we only did when or twice before. 

Karwowski: the felt disrespectful to not take it on. If we were simply writing typical jokes, preventing the totality thing, the would have actually felt like, “What are you men doing?”

Kolb: I to be assistant editor in ~ the time, simply under Rob, and the intention no to do whole issue about it in ~ first, yet everything else felt for this reason inconsequential, therefore we chose to have actually the entire worry focus top top it. 


The Onion officially went back to occupational in downtown Manhattan top top September 17, 2001. Having chose the entire concern would be entirely about 9/11, the question currently was, how to execute it?

Siegel: By that time us were currently under press to come back, to, as soon as again, market pizza coupons an ext than something else. It yes, really wasn’t bravery. The was simply our owner kind of putting the screws come us and also saying, “We’ve got to put out a file because we can’t really afford not to.” therefore we gained the order native on high saying, “Would you mind putting out a paper this week? It would be really great because we have to pay everyone salaries and cover the rent and we can’t yes, really afford an additional week the no advertisement revenue.” that was really what that was.

This come from Peter Haise and also maybe that’s not precisely how the went, but that’s how I psychic it. Ns mean, if us had offered pushback, he most likely would have actually been cool around it, yet we didn’t provide pushback. The ads to be the lifeblood of the thing, for this reason we essential to get back to it to store our lights on.

Loew: this is an amazing point: The Onion hadn’t started publish circulation in new York City yet. We’d placed out regular concerns for subscriptions and for distribution ago in Madison and also a few other places, yet we hadn’t yet begun new York City circulation. This was reserved to be our an initial issue available all around new York. 

Hanson: It to be still a print issue in the cities where it was distributed, but brand-new York wasn’t one of them yet. We had a national and an international following by that allude on the internet, yet most that the people who review it most likely didn’t read it in paper. Some human being subscribed and also we mailed them file copies, yet unless you stayed in Madison or one of the various other cities where document was distributed, climate you i will not ~ have access to the record copies there is no a subscription.


Loew: At some allude we realized, “Oh mine God, this is walking to be the an initial print paper we’re going come drop on the roadways of new York City!” for this reason we had actually to make it about 9/11, since if us made it about Cheetos or some silly stuff, that would certainly be offensive. But this to be terrifying due to the fact that we’re these youngsters from Wisconsin comes into new York City and also we’re going come drop this stunner comedy record about this horrific tragedy. So we knew we had to obtain it ideal — the was favor threading the eye of the needle.

Harrod: We’d had practically a week come think about everything once we regathered on Monday. You might say there to be the basic feeling of, “Can we perform this?” hanging over us as us filed in, but once we gained started, we discovered the path through the woods. 

I mental throwing out the very first idea. Before I gain to the though, I need to rewind a little back come Madison in 1999. As soon as Columbine happened, Newsweek had a banner title of the word, “WHY?” end a snapshot of grieving people and also Todd had suggested ago then that the next time yes a large tragedy, us should simply publish the word “WHY?” end a picture of a chicken crossing a road. Ns reminded everyone of the — ns wasn’t seriously suggesting the idea, yet that aided to break the ice cream a bit.

Hanson: us were very terrified about people being offended, i m sorry is very, very, really interesting and different about this issue because normally as soon as a new issue came out, we had actually absolutely no concerns around whether us were walking to violation people. In fact, if civilization were offended, we delighted in that. If anything, us were proud as soon as we offended people. However this time us weren’t emotion that way. The was an exception to the norm. Everything about this worry was really an exception to the norm, to it is in honest.

Krewson: No one was sure what come do, and also everyone was still in shock. Us didn’t desire to it is in jingoistic. It didn’t take too lengthy — much less than 24 hrs — for civilization to say, “Oh, well, we’re walk to war in Iraq.” And, ns don’t know if anybody right here is increase on the spoilers, however we did the and, to this day, I’m not really fucking sure exactly why that was the case. We also didn’t desire to do, “It’s the U.S.’s chickens coming residence to roost.” that’s a bullshit line of thinking due to the fact that if you say “we had actually it coming,” climate you’re speak those human being in the structures had the coming.


It needs to be emphasize that we weren’t certain we can do it. I remember Joe Garden and also I specifically were like, “I nothing think we need to do this. I don’t know if us should. I think we need to maybe take an additional week and then start earlier in with a continual one.” but other human being on staff were very adamant the we had to do a solution to September 11th. I wasn’t certain that to be the ideal thing come do, yet I’m really, yes, really happy ns was wrong due to the fact that I’m proud of that issue. That issue came to be a vital piece of art made by some incredible human being who really met the minute really well and I’m happy to have had a small part of it.

Kolb: Our headlines meetings were on Monday and our process was to compose a bunch of headlines ~ above the weekend — typically late Sunday at the last minute — and also then to come in top top Monday for our title meeting, and also it to be a constant work main in that regard. 

Loew: we all got back in and we all satellite together, pitching headlines, trying to uncover the ideal tone. We’ve got to cover that from this angle, we’ve gained to cover the from the angle. What about the average person at home, exactly how are they handling it? That’s wherein “Woman Bakes American-Flag Cake” come from. We have to record some that this righteous anger, for this reason “Hijackers Surprised to uncover Selves in Hell.” The one that constantly tickled me to be “Rest of country Temporarily feels Deep Affection for new York.”

Schneider: I don’t know if this to be articulated, yet we didn’t desire to rattle people’s cages too much or do any kind of sort of “too soon” form humor. I don’t think plunder Siegel got up and also said, “We don’t want to do this!” however I think in the results of a shocking incident, she in the mood for some things and also not in the the atmosphere for various other things. 

Hanson: I remember one title in specific that was really great as one Onion headline. It was really perfect and also it to be the sort of joke us would typically make, yet we were like, “This isn’t a normal issue, and so, we just can’t perform it.” The headline to be “America more powerful Than ever Says Quadragon Officials.” of course, the idea being that one totality section that the Pentagon was missing. The was good for one Onion joke, yet people died, for this reason we just couldn’t execute that. No in this issue.


Krewson: ns don’t think everyone actually stated this in as many words, yet we just started taking all our moods and designing stories around them. Because you can’t ever before say the damaging thing is funny, but you can acquire some mileage out of making funny of the world who walk the devastating thing, or examining people’s reactions to the destructive thing.

“American Life transforms Into bad Jerry Bruckheimer Movie” to be the very first story that ns think we all agreed on. That was either a Joe Garden or a Todd Hanson headline, and also once we realized the there to be a method to do an issue about this, the press came turn off a lot. Then all of sudden the floodgates opened, yet it to be still the hardest issue we’d ever put together.

Siegel: every little thing in that issue either necessary to make a point or refer something civilization were feeling.

Loew: We wouldn’t have actually done that if we were just alone, i don’t think. The truth that we might pool every one of our intellect and all of our creativity and energy right into something like The Onion — that’s how we did it. Also, there’s no bylines in The Onion. Yes no “story through Todd Hanson” or “photo by Mike Loew,” that all simply all by The Onion. Ns think that also gave us some freedom and a feeling of safety in that we’re not putting ourselves on the line. At least we’re all together. 

Deciding what entered the concern took place over number of meetings, and also we talked about everything with a fine-tooth comb the week. It was still a standard schedule though. Prefer usual, the authors were an alleged to show up through X amount of headlines because that the idea meeting. For this reason the authors came in with their lists, they check out their list, and from that, they produced a grasp list with thousands of ideas and then you choose an worry from that grasp list.


Krewson: It come slowly, however we to be so in the habit of making these worries that getting ago to our routine provided a sense of normalcy to what us were doing.

Siegel: Most the the time, the just obvious who must write what, provided their voice and their beat. While normally whoever pitches a headline doesn’t necessarily write the story, v this issue people an ext so wrote what they pitched. 

Nackers: You had a an excellent group of world who knew each other really well and also knew your beat, therefore you had actually great, well-rounded coverage because that the issue. Also, due to the fact that we were new Yorkers that recently moved from the Midwest, we were maybe to sum up both how brand-new Yorkers to be feeling and how much of the country was feeling at the time. 

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The Onion’s 9/11 concern wasn’t the funniest issue they ever before did, but it would revolve out to be incredibly successful since it reflect so plenty of of the emotions that human being were feeling after the attacks. The sorrow, the anger, the utter helplessness — all of this was recorded by one title or another, offering most everyone in the audience other to recognize with. A few of those headlines…


“HOLY FUCKING SHIT: attack on America”

Loew: I’m pretty sure that the might’ve to be the spiciest language the we’d ever before put top top the front page up to that point. We were trying to record just the general shock of the moment. Ns not sure who, however someone said, how around we simply say, “Holy Fucking Shit.” That can have been Rob Siegel — ns think it to be Rob Siegel.

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Siegel: It’s kind of end up being known together the “Holy Fucking Shit” issue because there’s a little “Holy Fucking Shit” logo on it, which ns can insurance claim credit for. A lot of the time, you can not remember what friend wrote and also what someone else wrote, but that, I will certainly say, i did. That was because, in ~ the time, every network had these dramatic logos v the pair towers burning saying “Crisis” or “Terror in America,” or whatever; for this reason we simply said, “Holy Fucking Shit” due to the fact that that’s what most world were in reality thinking.

U.S. Vows to defeat Whoever it Is We’re at battle With


‘The United says is preparing to strike, directly and decisively, against you, whoever you are, just as quickly as we have actually a turbulent idea of her identity and a reasonably decent estimate regarding where her base is located.’”

Harrod: I think I take it a stab in ~ “U.S. Vows to defeat Whoever the Is We’re at war With,” i m sorry was around the an altering face the war. Us didn’t, at that moment, actually know where our adversary was, which is normally pretty an essential before friend can attack them. 

Loew: Even then, we could see wherein this to be heading and that this was going come be offered to justify every sorts of military adventures in impoverished countries with people of color. 

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Hanson: my favorite hoax in the entire issue was indigenous the story “U.S. Vow to defeat Whoever the Is We’re at battle With,” and it to be the graphic reflecting the world map with feasible locations that terrorists. It was so brilliant. I assume the hoax was in reality made by every one of us collaborating together, however it was fabricated by the graphic team the Chad Nackers and Mike Loew. The a great visual gag. 


American Life turns Into negative Jerry Bruckheimer Movie

“‘Terrorist hijackings, structures blowing up, thousands of people dying — these room all things I’m accustomed to seeing,’ said Dan Monahan, 32, who witnessed the fiery devastation of the pair Towers firsthand native the home window of his second-story apartment in Park Slope, Brooklyn. ‘I’ve watched them all before — us all have — on TV and in movies. In movies like Armageddon, it seemed silly and escapist. Yet this, this doesn’t have any scenes where Bruce Willis saves the planet and also quips a one-liner as he blows the negative guy up.’”

Hanson: The occasions of 9/11 were the sort of a script where, if they had actually been fictional, they would have been yes, really thrilling in a low-brow, bad, Jerry-Bruckheimer-movie sort of way. You might imagine Arnold Schwarzenegger being involved in a case where somebody hijacked a aircraft and flew it right into a building, or perhaps Bruce Willis would certainly be involved or whatever.

Harrod: My key memory is the Todd was really the MVP of that issue since he go both “Bruckheimer” and “God,” which to be both excellent, filled with solid jokes and proper handling it. Both of those ended on emotional notes, interesting way enough, instead of a hard joke as would be regular for The Onion.

God Angrily Clarifies ‘Don’t Kill’ Rule


“Responding come recent events on Earth, God, the omniscient creator-deity venerated by billions of followers of miscellaneous faiths for an ext than 6,000 years, angrily clarified His longtime stance against humans killing each other Monday.”

Nackers: i think the piece around God to be my favorite because I assumed the satirical point worked on countless levels. I favored it due to the fact that it wasn’t around blaming one group, the was an ext about everyone at the time, both the terrorists and also those rushing right into war.

Hanson: The “God” one seems to it is in the one civilization remember the most, at least when they speak to me. That was mine headline and that was assigned come me and also I composed it. I cried in ~ the end of the story when God cries — i was actually crying. It wasn’t this cynical, dismissive, edgy feeling that we typically would do. It was very sincere.

Hijackers Surprised to discover Selves in Hell

“‘I was promised ns would spend eternity in Paradise, gift fed honeyed cakes through 67 virgins in a tree-lined garden, if just I would fly the airplane into among the pair Towers,’ said Mohammed Atta, among the hijackers the American Airlines trip 11, in between attempts come vomit up the wasps, hornets and also live coals infesting his stomach.”


Krewson: The piece I finished up creating was “Hijackers Surprised to find Selves in Hell.” It’s not the most advanced piece in the totality thing and I don’t think it’s the ideal piece in the totality thing, but it’s the most cathartic piece. I think it had a duty to play. There was a many of different stuff that we had actually to hit, and also one of lock was the everyone was angry. And also there’s no question where these males were walk to finish up. They were going to sit closer to the fire 보다 Woody Allen but not that far from Hitler, girlfriend know?

Not discovering What rather to Do, woman Bakes American-Flag Cake

“‘I baked a cake,’ stated Pearson, shrugging she shoulders and forcing a laugh as she unveiled the dessert in the Overstreet family members later that evening. ‘I make it right into a flag.’”

Nackers: There’s yes, really no one far better at recording American life and transforming it into an amazing Onion joke than Carol Kolb. She really had her finger on the pulse the what Americans are like, and also I think it is just part of being a Midwesterner. 

Mike Sacks, humorist at Vanity Fair, comedy writer and also author of number of books about comedy, including And this is the Kicker and also Poking a Dead Frog: The one that records it all for me was Carol’s headline, “Not understanding What rather to Do, woman Bakes American-Flag Cake.” yes sir a sore there that was really accurate to exactly how helpless civilization felt.


Kolb: ns think this story touched some people because it was more about an individual grieving, together opposed to the an ext political headlines. 

Hanson: That was based upon our own Saturday night. Carol and I went over to a friend of mine’s and he had his next-door neighbors over too, and also the woman of that pair had made an American-flag cake. She was embarrassed around having excellent it and also she feeling a little silly, however she to be like, “I didn’t understand what rather to do. So ns did this,” and also Carol composed that up as a story. That wasn’t an alleged to be making funny of the mrs for doing it, it to be just claimed to be sort of touching since it to be a touchingly helpless gesture that occurred to be from our real lives. 

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Nat Towsen, stand-up comic, comedy writer and fan that The Onion: One of my favorite things were the TV listings in the issue, which confirmed how various networks to be adapting your programming. It was like a TV guide schedule, and I patent remember the Nickelodeon ones like Clarissa explains the assault on America and SpongeJohn SquareAshcroft. I haven’t viewed that problem in choose two decades, yet I still remember those. 

Karwowski: Just about every network on 9/11 had news top top it, even some non-news channels switched end to a news feed, other than for one channel, i beg your pardon had gold Girls. That was prefer news news, news, news, tragedy, tragedy, gold Girls, tragedy, tragedy. So because that this, i remember saying, “No issue what, ns want one of them to be just a whole line of golden Girls.”


Schneider: i think in the “News in Brief” section, you experienced a small bit of the sharper humor that was much more typical that The Onion. Choose “Bush Sr. Apologizes to kid for resources Bin Laden in 1980s.” You essential those reminders in there regarding how we gained to this point. Not everyone needed an emotionally catharsis — catharsis have the right to take the form of reason as well. 

Nackers: There to be a lot of of care taken v this issue, more than any type of issue beforehand and any one since, really. Us actually had actually some of the office staff — favor our sales reps and also office manager and people like that — come in and take a look at the jokes just to make sure we to be being careful about what we were doing. We confirmed them this white plank of headlines to acquire a non-comedian’s perspective, and it aided to have actually some outsider voices for such a sensitive topic. 

Karwowski: A handful of people at The Onion who weren’t the authors had found out that us were walking to carry out this concern directly about 9/11 and a bunch of civilization said, “If you execute this, I will certainly quit.” ns can’t remember, yet at least two or probably three world said, “I will quit if you carry out this directly.” What we told castle was, “Wait till we have actually the issue. We’re no going to it is in jerks around this.” as soon as we confirmed them and they saw exactly how we were taking care of it, nobody quit.

Hanson: That’s the weird thing. It was the riskiest issue we ever did, yet we in reality were yes, really going tamer than we normally would. 

Loew: We perfect the issue and we were terrified the it would be greeted with derision or anger, and we’d be ridden top top a rail the end of town. The was a component of mine mind for sure. I assumed this can not work and that we could be headed ago to Wisconsin. 


Doing any kind of sort that comedy so soon after 9/11 to be exceptionally complicated and the stakes to be no less high because that The Onion. Not just was this their first issue back, but again, it was their first “New York City Edition” as well, an interpretation it to be the very first time The Onion would certainly be available on newsstands transparent the city. So once The Onion sent out their 9/11 issue to the printers, castle had great reason to be concerned.

Sacks: Comedy best after 9/11 was yes, really tricky. If you were involved in comedy at that time, it was a really strange time to it is in around. My very own site at the moment was the Fredonian and I simply shut it down. Just about every comedy site did together well, prefer McSweeney’s and Sweet an elaborate Moses. Us just had actually nothing come say about it. It was a total shutdown of comedy.

Back then, as now, I worked at Vanity Fair and the editor, Graydon Carter, said that “Irony is dead,” which, even back then, I thought was ridiculous. Irony can’t be eliminated — we’re human beings — and The Onion staff would certainly prove that irony wasn’t dead and they did it in a compassionate way, which to be truly brilliant. 

Siegel: There to be a flood of think pieces about, “Is this the end of irony?,” “Is this the finish of satire?” or “Is this the end of humor?” and “How can we ever before joke again?” ns remember security a good portion of that week we had off supplying estimates to Newsweek and also USA Today and also all these publications that to be speculating top top the future of humor, which come me to be absurd. Of food there’s walking to be humor, especially due to the fact that humor is a method of handling grief and pain and fear. If anything, there was more of a need for humor 보다 ever, even if we probably didn’t feel prefer it that week. 

Karwowski: A few people go come back before united state , yet no one was trying to be funny at the point, so we didn’t know how this was going come go. All the talk mirrors at that time had an extremely emotional reactions, and also they were very gentle with how they approached the show. And we were simply kind the like, “Well, we’re simply getting back to normal.”


Sacks: Coming back, there to be Letterman, that I remember talking straight into the camera, which ns remember being really effective. He was talking about extremism, and also I remember that saying, “I can’t recognize anyone that would praise a god that would condone this.”

There to be also, the course, Jon Stewart, who broke down on camera when he was talking about the Statue of Liberty. In some means though, ns look at it together The Onion coming back very first because they faced it comedically first.

Schneider: best after 9/11, every the master of comedy talk reflects came on and also were really somber. They didn’t tell jokes, they greatly did extended monologues v no guests, so human being weren’t really making humor at that suggest and i think the drove ours desire to perform something funny. Not “too soon” type humor, but an alternative to how morose whatever was. 

Karwowski: Everything to be so touchy in ~ the time. Bill Maher obtained fired because that saying something about how he uncovered the terrorists to be brave, because they at the very least put themselves in danger, conversely, the American army tends come bomb indigenous afar — and also he shed his show!

Krewson: There was likewise the Gilbert Gottfried thing, which to be amazing, however I guess that seemed favor a little of inside baseball . The joke has actually only it is long the test of time due to the fact that everyone else caught up through it and it’s become infamous. 

Sacks: Gilbert Gottfried’s joke was classic because even various other comedians to be offended. Someone also yelled, “Too soon!” i mean, you’ve gained to respect Gilbert because that that, but I nothing really consider it a “classic 9/11 joke” — yes, really nothing exterior of The Onion fits the description.

Karwowski: Saturday Night Live started with Paul Simon play “The Boxer” and then panning end the camera come the deals with of firefighters and police officers and also emergency workers, looking an extremely still. Then Lorne Michael asks, “Can us be funny?” and also Giuliani says, “Why start now?” So there was part humor in the show and also there to be sketches later on on, however they started out by taking it an extremely seriously.

Schneider: I recognize it though. For a talk show or comedy show, a rest from the frivolity made sense, yet given that we were The Onion and also that humor is what us do, i think if us did the straight, it i will not ~ have had the impact. 

Siegel: it was definitely easier for The Onion come come ago because of our format, really. Due to the fact that we’re this deadpan, satirical newspaper, it to be somehow much less disrespectful than, say, Letterman and also his conventional format.

Hanson: Most came ago and didn’t carry out comedy, and while world say we were brave because that coming back, the Upright citizens Brigade to be on phase that night downtown, and also Marc Maron was also — he was on stage that night act material about the events.

Sacks: The ones who came back with satire to be The Onion, which was so crucial at the time. They might have waited or they could have gone back to Wisconsin due to the fact that they were all still pretty new to new York, yet they confronted the issue head-on. Their layout was perfect for this too, due to the fact that it enabled for lot of voices and also this was a news story, so this layout was much an ext conducive to acquisition a shot in ~ the situation.

If friend look in ~ it now, it’s very gentle. It wasn’t the typical The Onion necessarily, but they type of crept ago into that in the perfect way. Comedy fans especially needed a an initial take top top it. We needed someone to say, “It’s okay.” no to make fun of the situation, but to make fun of our anguish and also our confusion. It was a real fine line. There really was no margin because that error. Castle really had actually to pole the landing, and they grounding it. Honestly, being in comedy at the time and also being with many who feeling a bit lost as to how to strategy it, The Onion yes, really showed every one of us the way.

The Onion’s 9/11 problem would come on newsstands top top September 27th. The an initial reply came via fax, and it didn’t exactly alleviate anyone’s fears the the worry might be their undoing.

Hanson: Everyone pertained to work that day, terrified the what was going come happen. In my mind, i was reasoning that this might be the last issue that The Onion ever publishes. Ours audience might turn versus us. We may lose every one of our advertisers and everybody would hate us and we’d go the end of business. It really felt like whatever was top top the line. 

Joe Garden, writer from 1993 to 2012: The job after the problem went increase online, us came into the office — late, as usual — come a fax that just had actually the words “Not funny” composed over and over on it. I thought that didn’t portend something good.

Krewson: That optimal fax said, “not funny, not funny, not funny” in large writing, but listed below that to be a stack as thick together a call book and just about 98 percent of the was all praise. We acquired stuff from U.S. Military bases, ingredient from police departments. We gained stuff from households of people who were involved. It was nuts. What in my files, I have actually an article about a woman who concerned our party the night before and was so hungover that she no able to get to job-related at the civilization Trade center the following day.

Loew: Maybe we saw 4 or five emails that were like, “How dare you make light the this tragedy?” yet then we obtained a phone book’s precious of emails praising us. We published them every out and also put castle in a binder. The response was overwhelmingly positive. For this reason many civilization said the this to be the an initial time they’ve laughed in weeks, and people to be emailing us who had lost coworkers and family members and they were thanking united state for making them laugh again. We likewise got a couple of emails from world that had actually hung out through us the night prior to who told us that, since of The Onion, they to be late to work the following day at the people Trade Center. 

Karwowski: Usually we got about 50 or so emails from people for one issue, yet for this concern we were obtaining thousands of emails and also I’d say 95 percent the them to be positive. Every when in a if you’d gain someone who was favor “too soon” or “inappropriate,” but most people were like, “Thank God, the been two weeks of anyone taking things so seriously.”

Harrod: I remember the giant, “not funny” sheet being passed around until man Krewson had it in his hands and he looked at it and went, “Huh, interesting” and also then he crumbled it violently in his hands then threw it away. A pair of us began yelling in ~ him like, “Hey, it is an artifact that this issue! That can go in a museum someday!”

Kolb: it felt great to get every one of these emails that said “I needed to laugh,” and also it to be so much an ext important that the normal replies like, “That was so funny dude!” the we’d usually get. In this very an overwhelming time, it simply felt exorbitant that world were actually moved and also thankful to have an opportunity to laugh.

Hanson: Not only were the responses good, however there were points like, “God bless you” and also “Thank God because that The Onion” and “God bless The Onion.” ns don’t psychic anybody also thinking that was also a possibility. So us were quite blown away and also quite emotionally humbled through it. Us were yes, really touched that anyone would react that way. It was simply deeply, deep moving.

I remember one story i heard afterwards was particularly touching. It was from a male named Nat Towsen, who was a high college student at a surrounding high school throughout 9/11 and his institution was evacuated from the area throughout the whole thing. I met the once and he said me how much The Onion intended to the at that time and how vital it was to him and his friends.

Towsen: ns was a small in high college in 2001 and I visited Stuyvesant, which was under the street native the civilization Trade Center. I was in institution the morning the happened, and also my college was evacuated and the students and teachers began marching up the West side Highway because that our parents to pick us up farther uptown. I lived in Greenwich Village, and also once we all reached Houston Street, ns told one of the guidance counselors the I live here. That told me come go and also take as numerous of my friends v me together I could. 

There were troubles with the phone however we to be able to use the internet line to contact all of my friends’ parents and they to be picked increase one by one. My grandpa also came down and also brought united state all pizza, despite I had missed that myself due to the fact that a few of us had actually left the apartment to lug water to several of the first responders. More than that, ns don’t yes, really remember much about the job of. I can’t remember my dad or my brother coming home, I simply remember my last girlfriend leaving and that’s around it. It’s still sort of tough for me to speak about. 

I was already a pan of The Onion before 9/11. My finest friend had lugged a copy of The Onion’s our Dumb Century to a pre-high college orientation event and showed it come me. So we were complying with it ~ above the internet from the start of high school and then he obtained a publish subscription because that Christmas. We additionally used to go to the college library and also print the end The Onion articles — I’d save them in mine backpack.

For the 9/11 problem specifically, it distilled the hypocrisy surrounding 9/11 perfectly. This was throughout the golden e of The everyday Show, but I’d still say that The Onion had reliably the finest take out there, largely since the mainstream media had all this jingoistic bullshit everywhere. 

See, for the civilization who lived in brand-new York, 9/11 was a very different endure than it was for the human being who didn’t. It was a very personal thing that happened and also it occurred locally, and the mainstream media take it the narrative far from us really quickly. All of a sudden, it was this thing that taken place to America and we had actually to it is in “strong” and also “patriotic” and “support the troops” — all of these points that didn’t reflect our suffer as new Yorkers. 

The Onion, though, appeared to it is in a voice of factor that was shining a light on every this bullshit, both in the 9/11 issue and their coverage afterwards. Later on, when you can find lock for cost-free in newsracks in the city, I supplied to seize a stack of them and distribute them about my high school since I wanted more people in my college to check out it, in component because I wanted to talk to people about it, but additionally because it just seemed prefer a voice the reason as soon as the official networks were spouting so lot hypocrisy. That was additionally much much more cutting and also insightful 보다 the late-night mirrors my parents were watching. I felt choose The Onion was something i really needed at the time as soon as I was simply a powerless high schooler, due to the fact that The Onion had actually a voice once I no able to have actually one.

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NYC newsrack because that The Onion

Siegel: People to be saying they were cracking up, however if friend look in ~ what they to be reacting to and also laughing at, the wasn’t yes, really jokes. The was simply a sort of expression the our collective experience. We just put a voice come what civilization were feeling and expressed just how scary and horrible and also fucked up and also dark it every was.

Krewson: It was a pair of years later that us learned that the rumors to be correct and also that we had actually been suggested for a Pulitzer.

Sacks: i really think castle deserved the Pulitzer because that that, and it’s a shame that they didn’t get it.

Jim Romenesko, excerpt indigenous Poynter post “Philly Editor assumed Onion’s 9/11 problem Was Pulitzer-Worthy”: The Pulitzer judges “were blown away” by The Onion’s very first issue ~ the 9/11 attacks, “but it to be a tiny too different, a little too risky,” claims Philadelphia everyday News editor Zach Stalberg. “I poll to do it a finalist, but nobody else did.” The refusal highlights what some feel is the reverence — some might say restrictions — under i beg your pardon the Pulitzer evaluate operates, says Joe Strupp.

Schneider: I carry out remember obtaining a lot of praise and compliments for the issue, despite I carry out think the legend prospered a little over the years. In ~ the time, the was simply appreciated, but we had to go earlier to work and keep transforming out issues. Us got good feedback, but we maintained our top down and got earlier to it, which was the nature of placing The Onion out weekly.

While countless found the worry to it is in cathartic upon its release, together the years have passed, the problem has stand the test of time together a great work of satire. Its legacy has been felt both in ~ The Onion and also elsewhere.

Nackers: i think beginning with the 2000 election, wherein the supreme Court chose the president, we began to go into a harder form of satire, i m sorry led an extremely naturally into what us did in the 9/11 issue. ~ that allude too, human being were just consuming more news, and also from there, you get in the Afghanistan and also Iraq wars. So it’s a darker time for our country. There room other determinants too, though. Currently you have whole generation farming up that didn’t get print newspapers — we quit doing print in 2013 — and that alters things as well. Also, us don’t have “issues” favor we did. Currently if miscellaneous happens, we have actually a story up around it an hour and also a fifty percent later. Currently there are much less silly headlines and an ext of us simply ridiculing the troubles of society. 

Kolb: Over the years, when I’ll point out that I functioned at The Onion, world will questioning if i was there because that the 9/11 issue. I guess, in a way, I’m no surprised that human being are tho talking around this issue two decades later. If you’re someone who is into humor and comedy — and because 9/11 was a huge part of history — it renders sense the it would still it is in a topic. 

Hanson: ns still surprised through the reality that that remembered as it is. There to be a huge cable series about the years not long ago and someone — perhaps CNN or BBC or national Geographic, i can’t psychic — lugged me in and also put me in a room v cameras around me and interviewed me around the 9/11 issue since they were including the 9/11 problem as component of the events of the decade. It was an accordingly tiny component of the special, but it was had as something specifying the fucking zeitgeist of the decade, which still blows my mind. 

Krewson: ns fucking shocked that human being are still talking around it two decades later, frankly. Ns wasn’t a significant writer because that it. I think ns just had actually a couple of things in there, yet I’m as proud the that as I am of anything I’ve excellent in mine life. Together for why it to be such a success, ns don’t know, however I think the comes back to that thing George Bernard show said: “Life does no cease to be funny when human being die any much more than it ceases to be serious when civilization laugh.”

Harrod: If you’re yes, really going to it is in a satirist, you need to walk right into the horror and acknowledge it. MAD newspaper holds critical stature in the history of that, yet it likewise has maybe watered down words satire to where it appears to mean any parody. Yet satire is a very particular thing — choose what Jonathan Swift did v A usual Proposal. Swift identified the horrors, i m sorry is what i think we did with this issue.

Sacks: having looked in ~ the worry again recently, it yes, really holds up and it’s simply a standard piece of created comedy, together with the nationwide Lampoon High institution Yearbook, Michael O’Donoghue’s The Vietnamese infant Book and also MAD newspaper in the early on days. Ns think the truth that it was in print provides it miscellaneous special, too. Like A modest Proposal, which to be a leaflet, this to be something you could hold in her hands, i m sorry is something us don’t have actually anymore in the exact same way. This is a real item of history and that employee was really something else. Written comedy commonly goes poor so quickly, however this one will proceed to stick around.

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Siegel: I’m really proud of the entirety thing, yet I’m more proud the the reaction than the actual point itself. I’m happy world think it to be brave and also bold and brilliant — I’ve to be told it’s those things. I feel choose it was more that us were tapping right into something so an effective that the was much more about the hugeness the the event, i m sorry is what do it probably feel bolder and also braver 보다 it was. We were simply doing what us did every week, and also we had actually to carry out it to store the lamp on in the office.