Editor’s Note: This article features explicit language.
Student Entertainment Events (SEE) held a lecture Oct. 15 featuring speakers from satire publication The Onion.
Dan McGraw, senior writer and core editorial manager, and Jermaine Affonso, editor of ClickHole, delivered the presentation.
The evening began with a brief history of The Onion. The presenters depicted some of the publication’s “first articles,” which included “Earthquake Marks Least Gay Day In San Francisco History” and “World’s Largest Metaphor Hits Iceberg.”
My personal favorite was “Holy Shit Man Walks On Fucking Moon,” in which Neil Armstrong is quoted saying“Holy living fuck.”
They then moved onto their more current articles, some of which were particularly relevant to college students.
“College Freshman Decides To Be Lanyard-Wearing Kind” and “Guy in Philosophy Class Needs to Shut the Fuck Up” earned a good laugh from the audience.
I can admit I chuckled when they took a jab at “something called The Diamondback” by showing a graph comparing their readership.
McGraw and Affonso then took time to discuss their creative process. Staff members and contributors pitch an impressive 1,500 headlines collectively each week and whittle them down until they arrive at the 12 best ideas.
When it comes to graphics, they boasted about their “incredible team, who can do basically anything with Photoshop.” Affonso admitted he often acts as a stand-in for pictures of President Obama, such as in the article Obama Up Early Cooking Breakfast In One of Michelle’s Extra Long T-Shirts.
The contributors also shared funny stories about comments readers have made on their content. While most people were aware that The Onion is satirical, there were instances in which readers took their content seriously.
One particularly humorous email they received was in response to the Donald Trump article, “When You’re Feeling Low Just Remember I’ll Be Dead in About 15 or 20 Years.” Trump’s lawyer said this piece was a “disgusting piece that lacks any place in journalism” and made a point to clarify that this “commentary was not written by Mr. Trump.”
Another comical incident occurred when Rep. John Fleming (R-LA) posted a link to the “Planned Parenthood Opens $8 Billion Abortionplex” article on his Facebook page, thinking it was factual.
After the wildly entertaining presentation, The Onion contributors answered questions posed by members of the audience.
Q: How do you react to these angry emails?
The speakers prefaced their responses by reminding everyone they’re trying to entertain, not trick people.
McGraw said these misunderstandings are unfortunate. He also said he has “mixed feelings, but it’s kind of funny. When it’s a politician, it’s good.”
Q: What did you study in school?
Affonso was a communications major, while McGraw, who interned for Stephen Colbert during his time as an undergraduate, studied history and political science.
Q: Is there anything new in the works in terms in spin-offs?
The lecturers indicated that they weren’t working on anything new at the time, and they “want to keep building the [content] [they] have.”
McGraw admits he is “kind of tunnel visioned on The Onion” and “very narrowly focused on hour to hour tasks.”
The writers then briefly touched upon their new website Clickhole, which pokes fun at internet culture.
Junior business major Avi Leventhal professed his love for The Onion writers. He simply said, “Thank you. You guys are perfect. I love you.”
“I was expecting a discussion of how satire is incredibly important for a functioning society, but instead I got to hear Onion writers read headlines for an hour which turned out to be hilarious. These people are my heroes,” Leventhal said.
On a more serious note, many of the questions concerned political correctness and censorship. In terms of political correctness some of the writers said they, “think about what the target of joke is, whether [they] are comfortable making fun of them or critiquing” the subject.
Q: Are there any jokes you regret?
“We’re always pushing the envelope, [and] sometimes you have to to apologize. We have a pretty thorough discussion beforehand,” one of the panelists said.
Q: With respect to the Charlie Hebdo incident, how does the political climate factor into your content?
Any time there’s a tragedy, The Onion wants to create content to strike a chord with readers.
“Charlie Hebdo was particularly tough because we also are a satirical newspaper,” McGraw said.
He said that it was a little more taxing because they wanted to be sensitive but also make a point.
Q: Is there a subject that’s too far?
“You never want to make a joke that makes fun of a victim.” Writers at The Onion always take the “punching up versus punching down” approach to content creation.
The lecture ended with some lessons and advice for aspiring writers.
McGraw said he aims to stay sharp in the face of constant rejection, because he knows 80 to 90 percent of his ideas will be cut. “[It’s important to] maintain confidence and keep churning stuff out. A writer has to learn to deal with rejection,” he said.
An Evening with The Onion was an evening full of laughs, as well as serious questions on the responsibilities and the creativity of satirists.
Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of The Onion.
Veronica Proudford is a junior marketing major. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.