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America’s Finest News Source: Oprah Doesn’t Exist and Other Known Knowledge

Published: Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Updated: Monday, November 5, 2012 14:11

The Onion

"The Onion Book of Known Knowledge: A Definitive Encyclopaedia Of Existing Information"

Ben Berkley spent the majority of his college career at ASU in the basement of the Matthews Center working on ASU’s independent daily newspaper, The State Press. Now he works for The Onion, his self-proclaimed “dream job.” A homegrown Tempe native, Berkley says he first fell in love with The Onion at a young age when his parents bought The Onion’s “Our Dumb Century” book.

When he isn’t hand modeling for various digitally enhanced graphics, Berkley works behind the scenes and helped create The Onion’s new book, “The Onion Book of Known Knowledge: A Definitive Encyclopaedia of Existing Information,”which is everything you can expect from a satirical reference book. Berkley took time out of his hectic schedule to chat with College Times about the book and life at The Onion.

College Times: Tell us a bit about yourself, Ben.

Ben Berkley: [I’m] currently the editorial coordinator at The Onion, which means I’m the behind-the-scenes, jack-of-all-trades guy tasked with keeping all the trains running on schedule so to speak, keeping our creative staff from pulling their collective hair out and doing whatever needs doing, such as gluing back in the creative staff’s collective hair they pulled out anyway. I also annoy the hell out of everyone in the office with my constant proclamations that Arizona is the greatest place on Earth, which is my duty as the first Arizonan to be a full-time Onion editorial staffer.

Who will benefit most from this book? Who will not?

Former Phoenix Suns guard Dan Majerle will benefit most, actually. There’s this notion out there that basketball gained popularity as a sport due to the efforts of a few other star players, but our book illuminates the truth: that basketball came into its own after Thunder Dan scored 32 points during a January 17, 1995, game against the Denver Nuggets. I’d say the book is not as flattering to Oprah, who does not have an entry in the book and therefore, being that this book contains all of the world’s knowledge, does not exist.

What’s the worst thing that can happen to someone if they don’t purchase the book?

I hate to say it, but there’s no way around it: Anyone who doesn’t buy our book is a dimwit. It’s not often that an organization of such esteem would be so generous as to offer the sum total of the world’s knowledge in one handsome volume. So missing out on that would, for most, mean they’re missing out on the greatest opportunity of their lives.   

When putting together a book of knowledge, how do know what to include and what to leave out? Where do you even start?

That was absolutely one of the largest challenges of this project: How do you take everything that exists in the universe and boil it down to 244 pages? That’s an insane obsessive’s task. Luckily, we’re all relatively insane obsessives. So, you do some mental gymnastics, try to get all existential for a while about the subject of knowledge, you fight off the headaches, and then, ultimately, you just lean on your much-smarter counterparts to do what they do best, which is make observations that have never been made before and write them in an incredibly funny way. And they delivered. We had a few topics we knew we wanted to hit: WWII, biology, homosexuality, Craig T. Nelson, etc. But then we set the writers loose to write on literally anything that came to mind, and they pitched the many odd — really, really wonderfully odd — collection of entries that make up this book. The writers of this book are one of the most talented groups of comedy writers ever assembled. It was an honor to organize their work and see them craft this masterpiece of a book and to watch them take about 20,000 entry ideas and whittle it down to an impeccable 1,500 entries. It hurt watching the other 18,500 or so entry ideas, most of which were incredible pieces of writing in their own right, that didn’t make the cut fall off the wagon, but that’s how The Onion has stayed of the highest quality for over 24 years.

Do you have any favorite entries?

Being as close to the content as I have been for two years, I have developed a soft spot for hundreds of entries, with a couple dozen standouts, like Turtle, CPR, and zoology. However, given my primary role in the book was keeping the thousands of entries organized, my weird organizational brain almost exclusively sees this book in chapter form rather than as individual entries, which means I have favorite chapters rather than favorite entries. My favorites being “C,” “F,” “T” and the “Ready Reference” in the back of the book. My mom makes a cameo appearance in “Pretty Things” in the back of the book, so I’m pretty sure that leaves me contractually obligated as a mama’s boy to say that’s my favorite part of the book.

How does election season change life at The Onion?

As with any publication, it certainly gets more hectic, though it’s also a months-long adrenaline rush. We aim to cover the election better than any other news outlet would, and so far, I’m confident we’ve done it.

With the election looming, do you have any words of wisdom for voters who are still undecided?

At this point, it’s boggling how anyone could be undecided since last week when The Onion endorsed John Edwards for president. He’s a natural-born leader, he’s handsome, he’s charismatic, he’s done horrible, horrible things — in other words, he’s the perfect leader for this chapter of American history. It’s time everyone got on board with his campaign.  

Meet Ben @ Changing Hands Bookstore, 6428 S. McClintock Drive, Tempe, 480.730.0205, Saturday, November 3, 7 p.m., free with book purchase ($30)

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