Who are those six people in that one Onion section?
August 17, 2006 10:11 AM   Subscribe

You know the fake man-on-the-street quotes that the Onion has been doing every week for years? There are six different people's photos they've used forever, and I would like to know more.

Is there any story behind them?

Were they Onion employees? Were they actors? Were they just stock photos? Were they just folks they found on the street in the early days of the Onion online?

Does anyone know who these people are, does anyone ever see one of them randomly in the street, and have they ever made public statements in reference to being immortalized in this fashion?

I have posed several different questions above, but any kind of detail would be quite fascinating after staring at these people's mugs for so many years.
posted by poppo to Media & Arts (18 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
They haven't actually been the same 6 photos forever. There was at least one previous generation. My hazy recollection is that the switch was sometime in the late 90s.
posted by xil at 10:15 AM on August 17, 2006

I saw an interview with the onion staff on tv once (I dont remember the venue, but I thnk it was a new york times interview; The Nation's Eric Alterman was there as moderator, I think). You might be able to find a transcript or video of it online.

They did talk about the fake-men-on-street section quite a bit (it is one of their trademarks, after all). They talked specifically about each of the photos. Each one was someone in or near where they live; for example, the african american was actually the UPS guy who made deliveries to one of their homes. ETc. They were people in the immediate neighborhood whom they interacted with fairly often in some way.
posted by jak68 at 10:23 AM on August 17, 2006 [1 favorite]

On a related note, I believe that the headshots for Jim Anchower and Herbert Kornfeld were both originally lifted from old Wisconsin high school yearbooks. Maybe Jackie Harvey too, I'm not sure.
posted by Iridic at 10:55 AM on August 17, 2006

As far as I know, they're photos of people taken on the street in Madison. I know one of the guys; he used to do the UPS delivery route on State Street in downtown Madison.

Madisonians, if you look in the background of the first photo on the linked page, you can make out the derelict (now demolished) Burger King on the corner of University and Lake.
posted by Hlewagast at 10:58 AM on August 17, 2006 [1 favorite]

yeah, they changed them suddenly somewhere around 1998 or 99. That's one of the few things I remember from college.
posted by billtron at 10:58 AM on August 17, 2006

Confirming what Hlewagast said; the guy with the sandy hair is State Street's UPS guy (or at least, he was as of 2003).
posted by interrobang at 11:00 AM on August 17, 2006 [1 favorite]

On non-preview, what jak68 said. Although the UPS guy I was referring to is actually the caucasian gentleman with the large, square-ish chin.
posted by Hlewagast at 11:02 AM on August 17, 2006

Sort of tangentally related, one of my friends from college is in a comedy group in NYC, and one week the six photos had names of people in his group. He was the guy the mouse rollover identifies as "Asian man".
posted by Lucinda at 11:02 AM on August 17, 2006

xil is correct. They are not the original 6. A friend of a friend of mine was one of the originals in 1988 - I think he was a dorm-mate of one of the founders at the Univ of Wisconsin.

On preview and off-topic, Hlewagast, I remember the BK lounge, but what was the name of the pizza joint a few doors away?
posted by badger_flammable at 11:02 AM on August 17, 2006

hlewagast - yes, it might have been the caucasian guy. (I saw the tv-interview a while back, so its entirely possible I've mixed up the particular stories about each face).
posted by jak68 at 11:11 AM on August 17, 2006

I'm from madison, and I remember when they changed. I'm pretty sure they changed when the paper went natoinal, and they changed due to usage rights.
posted by o2b at 11:13 AM on August 17, 2006

on a related note: one of the interesting things about that tv-interview, was the way the onion editors kept insisting that The Onion was not political in any way. THis seems counterintuitive. Eric Alterman kept trying to get them to admit that it was political in some way, but each editor adamantly rejected the suggestion. That was the one thing that stayed with me from watching that interview. I thought it was wierd that they would insist that it wasnt political when it so clearly (to me, as to Alterman) was.
posted by jak68 at 11:15 AM on August 17, 2006

The original (or at least previous) six all pretty much looked like 20-something friends of people who might work for the Onion. My gues at the time was that they changed them to get a more varied bunch. IOW, the current cast looks vaguely like a man-on-the-street cross-section, while the other group looked like a cross-section of people you'd meet in that bar near campus.
posted by rogue haggis landing at 11:24 AM on August 17, 2006

Lots of background in this audio interview (MP3 link).
posted by YoungAmerican at 11:42 AM on August 17, 2006 [1 favorite]

on preview and off-topic, Hlewagast, I remember the BK lounge, but what was the name of the pizza joint a few doors away?

I don't remember the BK but wasn't there a Pizza Pit on University and Lake? (~ 10 years ago)

posted by rottytooth at 11:48 AM on August 17, 2006

Response by poster: Wow, this is a treasure trove so far...I should have realized that all you U of Wisc folks would all know this stuff. Saving the audio link for later, thanks!
posted by poppo at 12:01 PM on August 17, 2006 [1 favorite]

Were they just folks they found on the street in the early days of the Onion online?

The Onion was a print newspaper for many years before it added its online edition. (1988 and 1996, respectively, if Wikipedia is to be believed.) They had the man-on-the-street quotes well before they went online, although I don't recall exactly when they switched the photos.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:45 AM on August 18, 2006

I was once at a reading in NY by the editors and they asked for volunteers to stay at the end and be photographed for the section.
posted by terrortubby at 11:25 AM on August 18, 2006

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