Who are the people in The Onion’s American Voices? The top 10 questions

For years, The Onion has published American Voices, a feature that surveys the real opinions of real Americans. The catch? The people always have the same picture. That leads a lot of readers to wonder who the American Voices people are. We have the answers.

The basics

Q: Who are the current American voices?

As of publication of this guide, there are six American voices. They’re below (click for bigger versions).

Q: So who are they? Do we know their identities?

The Onion, like any good fake news organization, plays the info close to their chest. However, a few real life identities have trickled out.

Most of the crew were just strangers or friends in Madison, Wisconsin, where The Onion used to be based.

Q: You have to have more than that. Who is one real person?

Fortunately, we have good documentation about at least one American Voice.

The brown-haired caucasian man is Bill Harris. He was The Onion’s Madison UPS truck driver and agreed to be in the feature. Though different photos have been used over the years, Harris has stayed in the picture.

He told Teamster Magazine that he’s occasionally recognized. He said, “Even though my wife is sick of it, it’s fun to be even a small part of it.”

Of course, as with all Onion news, people occasionally get satire and real life confused.

“One week’s question was, ‘What would your do if your son was caught putting graffiti on a wall?’” Harris said. “My response in the paper was, ‘I’d break his arm,’ Well, my kid’s arm was in a cast that week. People thought, ‘He really does what he says in the paper.’”

Q: Is there anybody else you can track down?

This video provides some clues. In addition to Harris, one Voice was a regional theater member, and another was a restaurant coworker of graphics designer Chad Nackers. The original African-American male was a schoolteacher, but his students overreacted and he asked to be removed. He was replaced by a stock photo before being replaced by another friend of The Onion.

We also know that one American Voice is still happy to be featured.

Q: Where can I find all the characters’ names and jobs?

Programmer Jeff Palm scraped The Onion archives. He has a list of fictional names and jobs (both of which we used to write this article).

Q: Who’s the most common American Voice?

That would be Bill Harris, who has appeared more than any other voice. He’s also appeared twice as a ghost (here and here), with the picture below.

The past

Q: Were these the only American Voices?

No! Diehards will know that there was another crew of American Voices men and women. They’re below.

Q: When did it switch?

It’s difficult to know if the online archives reflect the print edition changes. But online, the switch happens between the December 16, 1998 issue and the January 13, 1999 issue.

Q: Why did they switch?

We don’t know for sure, but our guess is that The Onion wanted higher quality photos.

Q: Is that it? Are those all the American Voices?

No. A few times, The Onion has strayed from its formula.

In 2009, it published a special edition version of American Voices, including cavemen, Ford factory workers, and medieval citizens.

One other face has appeared twice (here and here), and Onion editor Joe Garden appeared under his own name here.

There have also been famous cameos, including Timothy Geithner, Harry Reid, Michelle Obama, John Edwards, John Boehner, Sarah Palinsinger Bryan Ferry, reality star Susan Hawk, and, of course, Bobo the Monkey.

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