The Cutline

Remembering The Onion’s 9/11 issue: ‘Everyone thought this would be our last issue in print’

Dylan Stableford, Yahoo News
The Cutline

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On September 10, 2001, employees of  the satirical national newspaper, The Onion, gathered at the Bowery Ballroom on Manhattan's Lower East Side for a party to celebrate their first New York issue, which was due to be published the next day.

The band They Might Be Giants performed. Whiskey flowed. Friends proposed.  The world, as far as these transplanted Wisconsiners were concerned, was theirs.

But when they woke up the next day, as John Krewson, a longtime writer for The Onion, put it, "the world had changed."

Like many of his Park Slope neighbors, Krewson watched in horror from the roof of a Brooklyn brownstone with a clear view of the World Trade Center, as the events of Sept. 11 unfolded. He eventually went inside to turn on CNN for the rest of the afternoon.

That Sept. 11 issue of The Onion never made it to print.

The next week, the staff--which had moved operations from Madison, Wisconsin, to Manhattan a few months before--gathered at The Onion's offices on 20th Street. "It was a terrible meeting," Krewson recalls. "We knew we wouldn't be able to ignore what had happened, but it was hard to make any sort of comedy."

Eventually, Krewson remembers, one of the staffers said that American life had become "a bad Jerry Bruckheimer movie."

That headline, which would become a front-page story in the 9/11 issue, got the ball rolling, and loosened everyone up, Krewson says.

Another one, by former head writer Carol Kolb, got the comedic juices flowing even more.

Not Knowing What Else To Do, Woman Bakes American-Flag Cake

"It was poignant," Krewson says. "It captured how stunned and confused everyone was at that time."

Others headlines followed:

U.S. Vows to Defeat Whoever It Is We're At War With

Hijackers Surprised To Find Selves in Hell: 'We Expected Eternal Paradise for This,' Say Suicide Bombers

God Angrily Clarifies 'Don't Kill' Rule

Rest of Country Temporarily Feels Deep Affection for New York

Massive Attack on Pentagon Page 14 News

Hugging Up 76,000 Percent

The Onion's now-classic 9/11 issue was slowly but surely coming together. But the staff was still worried about how it would be received by a city still grieving from the worst terrorist attack ever on American soil.

"Everyone thought this would be our last issue in print," Krewson says.

The Onion's 9/11 issue--its first in New York--hit the streets on Sept. 26. When staffers arrived in the office the next day, the fax machine was overflowing with comments from readers—virtually all of them positive.

"The top one just read 'That's funny, that's funny, that's funny,'" Krewson says.

Given the feedback, Krewson knew they had hit on something, though not necessarily comedy.

"It wasn't an especially funny issue. In fact, I'd say it was the least funny issue we've ever done," Krewson says. "But it was cathartic."

"The hijackers piece--that is just brutal, brutal, physical comedy."

Nonetheless, it is, to this day, the most commented-on issue of The Onion.

"Not a week goes by [that] I'm not asked about it," Krewson says. "A lot of the younger writers—who weren't around then—are sick of hearing about it."

Despite the enduring popularity of the 9/11 issue, don't expect The Onion to join the rest of the media in revisiting the September 11 attacks on their 10th anniversary.

"If we did something," Krewson says, "it would mean we haven't moved on."

Editor's note: For more September 11 memorial coverage, visit Yahoo's "9/11 Remembered" site.

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