How The Onion’s ‘Diamond’ Joe Biden Took on a Life of His Own

America’s favorite fake veep: He’s your drunk, dirty uncle who washes his car shirtless and doesn’t do what he’s told. Is he anything like the real thing?

Brian Resnick
Jan. 22, 2013, 8:50 a.m.

Some­times it’s hard to tell the dif­fer­ence between Joe Biden, the vice pres­id­ent of the United States, and“Dia­mond” Joe Biden, his dop­pel­gang­er on The Onion. One in­stance was Monday, when the real VP was run­ning zig­zags down the in­aug­ur­al-parade route, ges­tur­ing to­ward the crowd as though he was the star of the show. They are both lar­ger-than-life char­ac­ters, and there are times when head­lines about one could be writ­ten about the oth­er. For in­stance:

Real Joe Biden: Hangs out with bikers at a cam­paign stop, and nuzzles one on the head.

Onion “Dia­mond” Joe Biden: Asks White House vis­it­or if he wants to “check out the roof.”

Real Joe Biden: Flirts with sen­at­ors’ moth­ers dur­ing swear­ing-in. Swears in a baby.

Onion “Dia­mond” Joe Biden: Washes Trans Am in White House drive­way, shirt­less.

“He’s one part 1980s high school dirt­bag, one part your dis­gust­ing uncle, and there’s a part of him that has a nat­ur­al charm,” says Chad Nack­ers, an Onion writer who has been on the Biden beat for five years and a lead writer on a new Biden “auto­bi­o­graphy” re­leased last week. In an­oth­er breath, he de­scribed­Biden as be­ing akin to those rebel teen­agers who stand out­side high schools smoking ci­gar­ettes. You know, “those kids out there with their Pantera shirts talk­ing about met­al con­certs.”

In real­ity, that de­scrip­tion doesn’t make any sense at all. The vice pres­id­ent is a straight edge: He nev­er drinks, he’s a de­vout Cath­ol­ic, and he is very much a fam­ily man. He likes folk mu­sic, for heav­en’s sake. But on The Onion, Biden has be­come a swash­buck­ling, pony­tail wear­ing dirty uncle, someone who slacks off from work, “ig­nor­ing his re­spons­ib­il­it­ies, cruis­ing for chicks.”

It’s not just The Onion; the vice pres­id­ent has proven to be a polit­ic­al char­ac­ter with an un­canny In­ter­net ap­peal. For in­stance, when he used a funny word at the VP de­bate, malar­key, we got this. White House pe­ti­tion­ers have even called for a Biden real­ity show. But you won­der at times if the vice pres­id­ent is also aware of his pull on the Web. For in­stance, is he aware that when he goes to Costco, the pic­tures of him shop­ping around the store will go vir­al? Es­pe­cially see­ing how that Novem­ber trip to the whole­saler was used as a plat­form to dis­cuss middle-class taxes (not to men­tion a pos­sible kick­back to Costco cofounder Jim Sin­eg­al, a long­time Demo­crat­ic sup­port­er who spoke at last year’s Demo­crat­ic Na­tion­al Con­ven­tion).

The Onion ver­sion of Joe Biden is a char­ac­ter who both wildly di­verges from, yet re­flects, the real liv­ing vice pres­id­ent. Their writers take the Biden who hangs out with bikers, but they make him a drunk. They take the Biden who swoons wo­men and have him make out with Janna Ry­an after the VP de­bate. “I’m sure Joe Biden would deny most of our cov­er­age,” Nack­ers says. But he seems to like it. Last Janu­ary,Biden told Ya­hoo! News that he thought the spoofs were “hil­ari­ous.” Then, on Fri­day, while the fake Joewas tak­ing ques­tions on Red­dit, the real VP sent this tweet in­sult­ing the former’s taste in cars:

The Onion’s new e-book, The Pres­id­ent of Vice, fol­lows the tale of the dirty-uncle Biden, the one who, in that glor­i­ous sum­mer of 1987, had a “mys­tic­al ex­per­i­ence” in the New Mex­ico desert. “I think it’s brought on by sniff­ing Oxy­con­tin or something,” Nack­ers says. “But the whole time he’s talk­ing about this per­fect time that he could light up a joint in front of a cop and that cop can either ask for a hit off of it or throw him in the clink for the night, and then he’d make some awe­some friends while he was in jail. No mat­ter what, it was all kind of smooth sail­ing for him.”

With sec­tion titles such as “Places I’ve Got­ten Down and Dirty in D.C.,” there aren’t many pas­sages in the book that are safe for work. Here’s “Dia­mond” Joe talk­ing about his con­gres­sion­al leg­acy:

OK, now here’s the achieve­ment that I was most proud of and will be the center­piece of my leg­acy. It was in that Sum­mer of ‘87 that I be­came the first mem­ber of Con­gress to break the 3-minute bar­ri­er for keg stands. That’s en­uf said.… Let’s just say I blew Strom Thur­mond’s 2 minutes and 15 seconds out of the wa­ter.

I asked Nack­ers how The Onion con­ceives of such ad­ven­tures. It’s not ex­actly sci­entif­ic. Here’s his de­scrip­tion of the pitch meet­ing when the shirt­less Trans Am idea came up. “I think ori­gin­ally there was a head­line that was pitched that was a little more in­tense, like he was hammered or something, and crashed his car,” he says. “And we were think­ing there’s more of a story to be told if he’s hanging out. And a lot of times that’s how an idea is pitched, and then it trans­forms in­to something else.”

That story trans­formed fur­ther when the pub­lic­a­tion set out to find a body double for the veep, “on­Craigslist or something,” and lucked out to find a white Trans Am own­er who also “was quite like JoeBiden in a way.”

Per­haps the pub­lic­a­tion’s af­fin­ity for Biden echoes its own ed­it­or­i­al roots. The clas­sic Onion story is a spoof on the “loc­al man” story that you might see in the pages of a small-cir­cu­la­tion pa­per. Such as “Area Man Win­ded After Par­tic­u­larly Lengthy Wendy’s Or­der.”

Biden’s that guy to them, but in Wash­ing­ton.

“He’s like the real guy in Wash­ing­ton,” Nack­ers says. “A lot of politi­cians hide that, they’re kind of glossy and they’re all about reach­ing out to their con­stitu­ents or who­ever, or climb­ing up that D.C. lad­der, and Joe is just a real guy.“

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