The Thirst for Fake Knowledge: A Q&A With Seth Reiss, Head Writer of “The Onion”

From Big Think:

Not content with publishing a fake newspaper, producing a fake news channel, and delivering the best satire on the Web to millions of (genuine) fans, the staff of The Onion has compiled a fake encyclopedia. Just in time for the death of print, The Onion Book of Known Knowledge: A Definitive Encyclopaedia of Existing Information: 183rd Imperial Edition appears in bookstores this week, billing itself as “the last book ever written.” In honor of its publication, and of the culmination of human scholarly achievement, Onion head writer Seth Reiss was kind enough to answer a few questions for Book Think.

Q: This is the first print encyclopedia I’ve glanced at since the World Books of my youth. Are you hoping nostalgia will be part of the book’s appeal?

A: Ultimately, we are hoping that people’s thirst for knowledge will lead them to this book. The appeal of this magnificent tome is that, essentially, for people to properly understand the world around them, they need this book. People need this book to survive. They need to know that a lemon is a special type of egg laid by a citrus duck, and that President John Tyler was widely believed to be the “Whig Strangler,” the serial killer who murdered 23 people in the Washington D.C. area from 1841 through 1844—the same exact years Tyler occupied the Oval Office. All of this valuable information is in The Onion Book of Known Knowledge.

Q: A number of entries “joke” about how grueling it is to compile an encyclopedia. What was the writing process actually like?

A: We pitched thousands and thousands of takes for various people, events in history, and just random things. There were some topics we knew we had to hit, like World War II and September 11, and for those entries we pitched numerous take ideas until we got the one we wanted. I think we must have pitched over 100 jokes for Abraham Lincoln before we landed on the entry we eventually we went with. That was the difficult part of writing this book: trying to come up with an original angle for things that have been joked about by comedian after comedian. In the end, the writing process mirrored how we select our headlines. The writers pitch a ton of ideas, we get together in a group, and we talk about the ones that we like the best. So, lots and lots of work gets thrown out and whittled down to what readers ultimately see.

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