On April Fool’s Day, Visiting an Onion Anchor
Kyla Grogan, a.k.a. Andrea Bennett, is a year-round prankster
At the Onion, every day is April Fool’s Day.
Just ask Kyla Grogan, otherwise known as Onion News Network anchor Andrea Bennett, whose mock-serious news broadcasts often take on a life of their own: in January 2009, when Bennett broke a story on the release of “Apple’s latest must-have gadget, the MacBook Wheel,” the comment sections of popular technology blogs lit up with readers demanding to know where they could get the sleek new keyboard-less laptop.
It didn’t matter that the Wheel was the product of an Onion imagination and not Steve Jobs’ engineers, a visual gag meant to send up Apple’s buzzworthy hardware releases. The fake laptop, its keyboard replaced by a huge version of the iPod click wheel, accompanied by spot-on fake advertising (“The Wheel. Reinvented”), fooled many. One tech blogger even posted an early, serious review.
Who’s to know if the send-up wasn’t inspiration for the iPad, Apple’s (real) keyboard-free laptop, debuting this Saturday?
“We’re so far out in front of the news that we know it before they do,” Grogan (COM’91) says with a laugh.
Grogan’s impersonation of a television news anchor, from her lip gloss and hairspray to the slightly aggressive tic that accompanies her signoff, is flawless, contributing to the satirical news outlet’s practical-joke effect on unsuspecting viewers.
But one of the Onion News Network’s goals, she says, is to hold a mirror to the hyperdramatic, overblown television newscasts we often accept at face value.
“You know the saying, if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it must be a duck?” Grogan asks. “The Onion takes that and blows it apart.”
Anchoring fake news is a natural fit for Grogan, a journalism student-cum-performer-cum-journalist-cum-fake journalist. She “grew up in the arts,” she says, in Gainesville, Fla., spending summers in Hartford, Conn., where she was born. Not convinced she could turn theater and dance into a career, she studied broadcast journalism at the College of Communication. Television news “shares a common thread with performing on stage,” she says. “The live factor was kind of addicting.”
After graduation, she auditioned for a Broadway role on a visit to New York and ended up in the German production of Starlight Express, “a crazy-ass Andrew Lloyd Webber show on roller skates.”
“I had roller-skated competitively as a child,” she says. “It sounds like comedy, but it’s true.”
Several years later, Grogan put her performing career on hold to pursue journalism. She joined KLAS-TV in Las Vegas, rising to on-air breaking news reporter. But the industry wasn’t for her.
“I’m a little bit goofy and news is very serious,” she says. “Sometimes you have to make mountains out of molehills. You have to have a story, even if there isn’t one.”
Covering “death and destruction” from a news helicopter and dealing with local TV anchors gave her plenty of grist when she landed the Onion job. “Andrea is an amalgam of many people I’ve observed and worked with,” she says. “She’s the greatest hits.”
That makes Grogan’s résumé almost as interesting as her alter ego’s: according to the ONN Web site, Andrea Bennett was named the “most stalked” news personality of all time by the New York Times, once made Senator Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.) cry, and is allergic to garlic.
“Andrea and I share many of the same qualities,” Grogan says. “She’s very serious about what she does, and she’s very certain that everything she says is extremely important.”
Grogan joined the staff of the Onion News Network just after the Web site’s April 2007 debut. She was unfamiliar with the satirical print version, but at the audition the writers impressed her. “I inadvertently memorized the script,” she says, “because it was so funny I just kept reading it.”
Since then, the site has taken off, gaining both eyeballs and accolades.
Grogan and the Onion are preparing to leap to actual broadcast. Onion News Network, a television “news” program, will begin airing on the Independent Film Channel early next year. The hope is that her fan base will expand from the current core of what she calls “smarty-pants people” — teenage boys who approach her on the street, a Harvard professor who interrupted a talk when he noticed her sitting in the room.
“What better job could a girl ask for,” she says, “than being a counterculture news hero?”
And what better award could a news organization, satiric or otherwise, win than the Peabody? ONN won the coveted prize without even entering the competition.
The award was announced, appropriately enough, on April Fool’s Day last year. Onion staff double-checked to make sure someone wasn’t trying to turn the tables on them, Grogan says — but it was real.2 Comments