Peeling the Onion

USA Today, Tomorrow the World: Inside the only humor publication that matters

Hanson's been here for some seven years, doing more or less what he does now. Writing about half of any given issue. Just a couple of seasons ago, he acted in a sketch comedy show--another bold Dikkers initiative never to see the screen--and, physically, in those intervening years, Hanson has leapt from his early 20s into his mid-30s. He's got the donut gut and a thin barbarous line along his mandibles, from his goateed chin up to his sideburns, that presages where his jowls will grow in, like some dotted line on a plastic surgeon's computer projection. And he's got this way of getting out of a chair, falling up and forward, almost, that suggests imminent spinal distress.

And the whole effect accentuates some part of Hanson that is decidedly sad-sack. You can smell it on him. And he knows that he's emitting sad-sack like pheromones, so he goes with it. Like, after granting an hour-long interview, he tracks me down to say, well, if he could be so presumptuous as to request that if I only get around to citing him on one topic, could it be that quote about comedy reflecting life's nightmare hellscape of unrelenting horror?

That's really the way he feels, too. What if we just started telling kids to lower their expectations, he wonders. Would that help? And then he shrugs and says that that's what everyone in his milieu is supposed to think, the whole slacker bit... which only adds some seriously painful self-consciousness on top of what Hanson calls his chronic "loserdom."

Only a week ago, though, Hanson started receiving a salary, yes, a bona fide weekly paycheck from the Onion. And he's also got this excellent girlfriend--the founder and curator of the Madison Museum of Bathroom Tissue--and they live together along with 3,000 rolls of the stuff. There's t.p. from the Vatican, Graceland, J.R. Ewing's ranch. And today... well, as much as Todd's mordant comportment will allow it... he's ecstatic!

See, over those seven years at the Onion, there were a handful of guys who graduated from the paper--their names are still in currency around the office--to attempt what Hanson calls "freelance entertainment media in the Los Angeles area." Meanwhile, Hanson was stuck in Madison, depressed, broke, answering phones for doctors, living off strawberry Quik... wondering if he was ever going to find his niche.

"A few years ago I was in this comedy troupe called the Arc Improv Theater," Hanson explains. "Chris Farley and Joan Cusack came out of the same group. One night we went to see Broadcast News and there's this scene where Joan meets Jack Nicholson and shakes his hand, and she's sort of in awe. You have to understand that Jack Nicholson is one of my heroes. And it was strange to look over and see Joan there, and then to see her on screen..."

There may be more levels to this anecdote than can be readily decoded--between character and Cusack, icon and celluloid--but the ultimate point may lie on this box of Trix cereal adjacent to the Wall of Chimp. There, on the special write-ready Trix blackboard, Hanson has scribbled a situationist graffito from Paris, 1968:

Down with a world in which the guarantee that we will not die from starvation has been purchased with the guarantee that we will die of boredom.

Hanson, it would seem, has no more faith in the illusory universe of L.A. freelance entertainment professionals and the vapor trail their lives describe than he does in his own ability to feed himself. And the Onion explores the netherworld between those extremes--between the Nicholson on screen and the Cusack sitting three seats down. And treats it as... news...

6. Give Us Convenience or Give Us Death!

CONSIDER THE COLA WARS, AND, more particularly, the recent introduction of a carbonated beverage called "Surge." The public may know it better as the "fully-loaded citrus soda" (a trademark of Coca-Cola Corporation, 1997). Before I ever discovered Surge on the shelves or the airwaves, though, I saw it on the front page of the business section of the New York Times:

"In an escalation of the soda wars, Coca-Cola Co. plans to challenge Mountain Dew, a 50-year-old icon of successful consumer marketing," the selection begins with martial urgency. And while the article deserves reproduction in full, a few salient paragraphs must suffice:

"Pepsi professed to be unworried by Coke's plans. 'Bring it on; we look forward to the competition,' said Brad Shaw, a spokesman for Pepsi-Cola Co. 'A wide array of wannabes have failed to put a dent in Dew. Its authenticity has been cultivated for decades...'"

and:

"The introduction of Surge 'is a major beverage event,' said John Sicher, publisher of Beverage Digest... 'A national roll-out like this without a test in the United States is highly unusual.... This is a hugely confident, aggressive move by Coke.'"

Maybe you just read the above excerpts and you're now shrugging your shoulders, underwhelmed or otherwise in need of additional whelming. In which case there may be nothing gained by going through the prose and highlighting the individual instances of really first-rate absurdity. Like: What is authentic about Mountain Dew? How can such authenticity be cultivated? What is a beverage event? How can a global manufacturing and bottling conglomerate centered in Atlanta be (or act) either confident or aggressive? And for the record... what is a cola war?

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