The Onion Turns 21

BY Tom LeGro  November 26, 2009 at 3:00 PM EST

The premise was straightforward enough: a free weekly newspaper of fake headlines, all of them jokes, complete with articles and images. Now celebrating its 21st year, the Onion has fine tuned this formula, publishing consistently funny — sometimes caustic — satire of political figures, the media and social convention.

Since its modest beginnings in Madison, Wisc., “America’s Finest News Source” has swelled, boasting offices nationwide, a highly trafficked Web site and an online video news service. Sports programming is on the way.

The Onion has drawn both fans and fire for its irreverent take on sensitive subject matter. It didn’t hesitate to publish an issue in the wake of September 11th proclaiming, “U.S. Vows To Defeat Whoever It Is We’re At War With” and “Not Knowing What Else To Do, Woman Bakes American-Flag Cake.” These and other headlines are collected in the new book, “Our Front Pages: 21 Years of Greatness, Virtue, and Moral Rectitude from America’s Finest News Source,” which came out this month.

Art Beat talks to Todd Hanson, the Onion’s story editor, about the paper’s humble beginnings, its philosophy on humor and what makes for a good joke: