As the founder of TheOnion.com and a #1 New York Times bestselling author, you are a household name in the satire department. What inspired you to write in this art form? When did you first write satire and why?
I didn't start out trying or wanting to write satire. I don't think I knew what it was. I just wanted to create things that were funny. Over the years at The Onion, because of the culture of continual improvement there, the other writers and I discovered satire, realizing it was the most satisfying and accessible kind of humor writing -- the most sophisticated level of achievement in comedy.
Satire often targets events that are rocking the society and mocks the high-profile protagonists. It tends to satirize the long-standing establishments, the widely accepted sets of rules and regulations. Do you see yourself as a cynic who cries out against the current world order? Or are you a dreamer who tries to poke humor at the desperate issues, in the hope that the truth, packaged into more digestible, "laughing" pills will move the masses and bring about change?
Both! I just want to change the world, that's all. Get people to wake up and think critically. It usually doesn't work out that way. Usually it just makes people laugh. But that's fine too.
There is a fine line between being funny and being offensive. How do you know when you've gone too far? Do you have any examples of when your own writing has been misunderstood or taken more seriously than you expected?
You go too far when you pick on the wrong target. When we were first starting to get into more satire at The Onion, we made a ton of missteps. We were learning and didn't know how to do it yet. We made fun of veterans, terrorist victims, you name it. We got angry letters. We learned and moved on.
Your latest book “Trump's America: Buy This Book and Mexico Will Pay for It” has been nominated for the 2016 Indies "Book of the Year" award. How does it feel to be noticed and appreciated for your work? Did the accolades you have received for your books open any of those proverbial doors - doors that led you to new heights in your career?
It's great. I believe we lost that award, but still, any attention is nice. Building a career and selling books is all about opening doors and laying the groundwork for the next book to do better. It's a process.
Why did you write the book about Trump? What was the book supposed to accomplish and in your opinion, did it do its job?
The job of satire is to point out what's wrong with the world and with humanity. When Trump entered the fray in late 2015 there was no question he was the biggest wrong thing about both the world and humanity and an entire book had to be written to satirize him. It was a little nerve-wracking for a while because we were heavily into the book before any primary vote had been cast. But then he kept winning and eventually won the election and this book was the only one out there and it reached a lot of people and helped them cope with the fact that Donald Trump now, sadly, has a huge impact on all our lives. So, in that way it did its job.
As you predicted, Trump has become President and now wields enormous power. It seems that retaliation is one of his preferred strategies to deal with his opponents. Do you feel safe in the current political environment? Is America strong enough not to turn on her prophets, those who take the time not only to think for themselves but dare to mock the most powerful?
All bets are off. As we see democracies fail across Europe and the rest of the world in recent years, we can only hope ours can bounce back. It's on life support now, and so many Americans don't realize it or don't care. So many openly embrace authoritarian fascism. It's definitely a scary, ugly time for artists, journalists, or anyone who cares about real representative democracy because, as Sinclair Lewis predicted, it can happen here.
“Trump's America” is sold on Amazon but can readers obtain any autographed copies? Are you scheduled for any author appearances/speaking engagements? Did the book bring you heartwarming admiration from fans or unwanted attention from critics and die-hard Trump supporters?
The initial push and promotion period for this book is long past. That said, I still do appearances once in a while and sign books (any of my books). "Trump's America" was designed to appeal to Trump haters and Trump supporters alike, so I've gotten no complaints. I see no point in preaching only to the converted.
“Trump's America” was preceded by another book of yours called "Destined for Destiny: The Unauthorized Autobiography of George W. Bush." Was there a moment when you knew you had to write a book about his presidency? What made you skip Mr. Obama's eight years in the White House - nothing to joke about there?
There was plenty to satirize with Obama, and I did a fair amount of it (I was at The Onion during much of that time and so had an outlet without needing to write books, though we did put out a Joe Biden autobiography parody at The Onion). That said, Obama wasn't a dangerous idiot like Bush or a threat to democracy like Trump. They deserve extra-special attention.
One of the finalists in "The Book of the Year" award was Alex Boldizar with his award-winning book titled “The Ugly.” In his interview with Lenka's List, he said that beating someone whom he respects as much as you would be fun and flattering to his primitive side. Alex also mentioned that when he was 17, he wrestled a 770-pound brown bear at the Canadian National Sportsmen Show. If you had to face Alex in a duel, what weapon would you choose? Would you be more likely to engage in a battle of witty words or an act of valor?
Have you experienced any back-biting and jealousy from fellow authors or do you mostly encounter good-natured humor, Alex's style?
Authors typically keep all their petty jealousies to themselves, so it's all been good-natured.
Do you get criticized for your writing and if so, how do you deal with it?
Yes there are always critics who hate my work. I learned it's part of putting yourself out there and I try to learn from it and improve when I can, or ignore it if it's baseless.
If you read satire from other authors is it for pleasure or is it your need to know what's already been done?
A little of both.
Does your family support you in all your projects? When you first "became" a writer, did you face ridicule like so many other artists who are told to get a real job?
They support me now. At first they were supportive but also bamboozled. There was no such thing as making a living from writing or comedy or anything creative in their experience, so I think they were worried about how I would eat.
Did you attend college with the intent to work a 9-5 job, earn a decent living, get married and have kids? Judging from your collections of cartoons titled "I finally graduated from high school," "I went to college and it was okay," and "I got married if you can believe that," I assume that you have much to say about it. Has your outlook on these subjects changed since you wrote the books? Do you continue to find satire in the everyday married-with-kids life?
No I never intended either of those things and have led a pretty unconventional life. I tend to look on "normal" people's lives and see things to satirize because I'm pretty far removed from it.
Looking back now with 20/20 hindsight, would you do anything differently? Your book titled "You Are Worthless: Depressing Nuggets of Wisdom Sure to Ruin Your Day" seems to indicate that you have learned a thing or two. What inspired you to write such an inspirational book?
I was depressed when I wrote that book. In a super dark place. But the jokes just flowed out like water. It remains one of my most successful books, which is pretty amusing to me. Yes I feel like I'm old and wise now. There are a few things I'd definitely do differently but I'm also a big believer that failure is the best teacher. If I hadn't failed so much in life, I wouldn't be as good at it as I am now, and I'm amazing at it.
What is the most difficult part of the writing process for you and what do you find the most enjoyable?
The most difficult part is writing when you don't want to, and by far the most enjoyable part is when you get in a groove and can't stop.
When you first became a published author, how did it change you? How did the subsequent fame change you? How do you maintain an objective eye without playing to your loyal base?
Author fame isn't anything close to the intensity of actual fame, and I have barely achieved even author fame. So, it hasn't changed me in the slightest. As far as giving the audience what they want, it's important to me to always keep 'em guessing.
Why did you quit being the Editor-in-Chief of The Onion? What do you do nowadays? Are you writing another book?
I quit that job like 3 or 4 times for different reasons. Usually I just get bored of it and want to do something different. I'm writing nonfiction books about how to write humor ("How To Write Funny") and working on a big parody project -- a parody of the Bible.
Is there something about you that would surprise us?
People are usually surprised to find out how hot I am.
If you could meet anyone, dead or alive, who would it be and where would you meet?
I'd want to meet Jesus Christ to find out what the deal was there. We could meet at Starbucks or wherever.
Is there any talent that you wish you would had?
I don't believe in the concept of talent. I believe any "natural gift" someone has was developed with dedicated practice, consciously or unconsciously. That said, I wish I could prioritize practicing to play the guitar and the piano. I thought for a while I would go into music when I was in high school, but I ended up going into comedy. But I love music. I've dabbled in it but often fantasize about doing only that at some point.
Can you describe yourself in three words?
No I can't.