(Excerpt from Todd Hanson interview)
You’ve been a writer for The Onion for almost twenty years. Do you feel at all constrained by the paper’s format?
Yeah, of course, I do—sure. You can’t do the same thing for that long without feeling somewhat constrained. But not really by The Onion’s format. When people say, “Why do you want to keep working at The Onion when you could have left and gone to do this or that?,” I always answer, “Well, because you can’t make child-molestation jokes about the Pope anywhere other than The Onion.”
So there’s no interest in branching out and moving beyond writing for print?
Listen, if I had wanted to make a quarter-million dollars a year writing for a sitcom, I could have done it. I could have gotten one of those staff jobs. But I didn’t do it. I just didn’t. Maybe I’m the dumbest guy in the world. But it seemed like, “Why would I leave The Onion when it’s clearly a once-in-a-lifetime thing?” Actually, scratch that. It’s not a once-in-a-lifetime thing. It’s a never-in-almost-anybody’s-lifetime thing.
How many people can say that something like that happened to them? That they and their friends have this little group in which they did this little fun thing together and then it ended up becoming internationally respected? Most people go through their entire lives without ever having anything like this happen. They get married, they have kids, they grow old, and die. And nothing like this ever happens to them. But it happened to me. That’s amazing. What are the chances it’s going to happen twice? I’m going to go out on a limb and say, “Probably zero.”
But don’t get me wrong. I still complain every day.
Why—are you not happy with your lot in life?
[Laughs] Am I happy? I am absolutely miserable!
Are you clinically depressed?
Yes, and I’ve been my depressed my whole life. My entire adult life, anyway.
Do you think this unhappiness expresses itself in your writing?
I think so, sure. If I hadn’t found dark humor as an outlet, I don’t know what the hell I would have done. I’m known for writing really, really black humor at The Onion.
Can you give me any specific examples?
I wrote an article that was called “Local Man Might as Well Just Give Up.” I don’t think I came up with the headline, but I wrote the piece. Another piece was called “Doctors Find New Way to Prolong Meaningless Existence.”
Let’s see, there are so many: “U.S. Populace Lurches Methodically Through the Motions for Yet Another Day,” “Study: Depression Hits Losers Hardest,” “Utter Failure to Spend Rest of Day in Bed.” I was actually in the photo in that last article. I was the loser in the bed.
You once said that The Onion’s humor is about one thing: life’s nightmare hellscape of unrelenting horror. I suppose those articles are a good example.
Well, like many of the jokes I make, that was said to get a laugh, but it was also true. That line was actually used in the “Utter Failure” article. That was an honest joke. That’s kind of my rule about jokes. I don’t think there is any point in making a joke that is not an honest joke. And I don’t find jokes funny if they’re not honest. Unfortunately, the truth usually hurts…
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