you recall reading such news stories as these: “Drugs Win Drug War,” “’I May Be Hazardous To Your Health,’ Warns Homicidal Surgeon General,” “Allstate Charged With Operating Protection Racket,” “ACLU Defends Nazis’ Right To Burn Down ACLU Headquarters,” “Congress Passes Americans With No Abilities Act,” or “America Online To Build Three Million Home Pages For The Homeless”?
If you recognize any of these funny headlines, or even the style of them, then you’re undoubtedly familiar with the Onion, at one time America’s favorite online source of fake news—at least until the last two presidential elections. If so, you’re also familiar with my work, because I wrote those headlines and some of the accompanying stories, and hundreds more.
Yet for a publication that celebrates its 35th birthday this year (2023), and achieved notoriety ever since the internet took off in the mid-nineties, little is known about the real history of the Onion and where it fits into the pop culture continuum. Even less is known about the inner workings of the Onion’s special approach to humor. Who puts it together, and how do they do that week after week?
Well, today, as the saying goes, we’re going to unscrew the inscrutable. We’ll peel back the layers of the Onion to see where it came from, and where it fits in the history of America’s written humor, flowing naturally out of literary traditions begun by the New Yorker, the National Lampoon and Saturday Night Live. Using my 10 simple rules for funny headlines, we’ll learn how to create funny fake news the Onion way, which we’ll see is a serious discipline that can teach us how to think creatively and concisely, whether as humor writers or as journalists—assuming there’s still a difference. And we’ll examine some of the implications, both positive and negative, of a comedic world where fake news increasingly reigns.
Though hundreds of articles and news reports have been done about the Onion, certain key facts of its true history have never been told—how the paper really got its name, for instance. Scott Dikkers, the founding editor who made the Onion what it is, sometimes tells reporters that “onion” is an old slang term for a juicy news story. Baloney! The Onion started in 1988 in Madison, Wisconsin as an unofficial response to the official University of Wisconsin school paper the Union. So the Onion name is just a pun, and not a very sophisticated one, which is no doubt why they try to keep the truth a secret.
For its first year it wasn’t even a funny paper, merely a run-of-the-mill alternative paper. Under Dikkers’ leadership in 1989 they started making serious fun of the university and the town, and that purely local humor was their stock-in-trade for five years until 1994, when their content became national in focus.
When the internet began to transform the world around 1995, the Onion was one of the first publications to go online. It was a happy accident, not clever strategy, that they were the first high-quality humor outlet to bring unique content to the web, and that, coupled with their new national focus, made them famous almost overnight. I started writing for them the following year, and was the only non-staff writer contracted to work on their first book Our Dumb Century three years later in 1999. That book went on to win the country’s highest literary humor award, the Thurber Prize.
Though its moment in the sun has arguably passed, today the Onion is still one of the most popular and critically acclaimed humor publications in the world, with millions of hits on its web site every week, and a string of best-selling books.
It’s worth noting, however, that while the Onion has perfected the modern fake news format, they did not invent it. That honor goes to the National Lampoon magazine, which started its News On the March feature in 1970, as was pointed out to me personally by one of the original Lampoon writers and editors, my friend and mentor the late George Trow. When painter Pablo Picasso died, News On the March announced, “Picasso Enters Black Period.” With its concision, its irony and its sense of the macabre, that could easily be an Onion headline. And in fact the parallels between the history of the National Lampoon and the history of the Onion run much deeper than that, as we shall see.
But I don’t want to get ahead of myself. One of the things I want to bring out here is the idea that the success of the Onion is not unprecedented. This has happened before in our country. Several times, in fact.
So let’s pause right here for a brief—well, not too brief—parenthesis about the history of written humor in America. From the founding of the nation up through the nineteenth century, the pickings are pretty slim and that history can be summarized with two names: Mark Twain and Ambrose Bierce. One might also mention Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes and his lone contribution to humor, a charmingly gentle book called The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table. Look it up; it’s well worth checking out.
The key point about Twain and Bierce is that, while their work is often animated by topical concerns, it almost always transcends them. The laughter comes mainly from absurdities of human nature and the human condition that are perennial. This puts them in a straight line of descent from Chaucer and Shakespeare. And this is why their work lives today and the work of all of their contemporaries is as dead as the age of silent movies.
The first half of the twentieth century was a golden age for written humor, highlighted by the founding of the New Yorker in 1925. Note the date: right smack in the middle of the Roaring Twenties. Insofar as the New Yorker can be seen as a response to its time, it was a reaction to the decade of the “lost generation,” those who had come back from World War One having fought the war to end all wars and returned home to find that, thanks to Prohibition, they were no longer legally allowed to enjoy the same beverages they had enjoyed while putting their lives on the line. There was a new social and sexual freedom, a new prosperity (for a while, anyway), and a new form of popular music, jazz, all lubricated by bootleg liquor provided by organized crime.
The New Yorker was not unique. There were a dozen or so national humor magazines with high literary standards at that time. Yes, Virginia—before the internet, before television, before radio, before universal public education, Americans actually knew how to read and write and laugh at things that did not insult their intelligence. The New Yorker simply happens to be the only such publication that has survived, and it did so precisely by becoming more than a humor magazine after the vogue for humor magazines had passed. Nearly every major metropolitan newspaper had at least one humor columnist, and many of those writers enjoyed national reputations that were well deserved.
The early New Yorker was much more humor-based than the magazine is today. Even their serious stuff had an amusing edge because their humorists wrote much of it. The young New Yorker gave us S.J. Perelman, who also co-wrote several early Marx Brothers films, as well as Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley and James Thurber. For my money, Benchley is the best of that bunch, and arguably the finest American humorist of all time. But it was Thurber whom Ernest Hemingway described as “one of the least boring writers who ever lived.” High praise indeed from Papa, who was not typically generous with compliments.
The New Yorker was and is a weekly magazine. Much of the humor that appeared there was topical, dealing with transient events of the day. The best of it, though—which I take to be most of the work by Benchley and Thurber—draws more upon human frailties and foibles and less on news or controversies of the moment. Hold that thought, because it will lead us back to the Onion.
Eventually the old guard of New Yorker humor writers died off or lost their edge. The second-string writers who replaced them—people like Peter DeVries—were frankly not of the same caliber. By the nineteen-sixties, the magazine had been transformed from a devil-may-care satirical outlet into a rather staid, if very well done, outlet for other kinds of literature and serious journalism. The best humor in the New Yorker was in the cartoons, as is still the case today.
Then two things happened. At the New Yorker, a second golden age of humorous prose slowly began. Woody Allen’s first piece for them appeared in 1966, Garrison Keillor’s in 1969. The nineteen-seventies brought comedic bylines from George Trow, Ian Frazier, and Veronica Geng, the funniest woman since Dorothy Parker. Together they ushered in a new sharpness, a new edge to written humor in this country. Since then, others such as Jack Handey and David Sedaris have continued that forward movement.
The second thing that happened along with the New Yorker’s new golden age was that the success of the Harvard Lampoon, a university humor magazine that had achieved some national notoriety, led in 1970 to the creation of the National Lampoon, a humor magazine that was everything the New Yorker was not at that time: vulgar, profane, dark, and deeply cutting. Where the New Yorker would take the nation’s pulse like a wise and trusted family physician, the National Lampoon always went straight for the jugular. I would be embarrassed to try to read aloud in mixed company from any of their more infamous articles. But just the title alone should tell you something about a story called “Children’s Letters to the Gestapo.”
Unlike the New Yorker, both the Lampoon and the Onion have their roots on campus. Each of them came along at a certain point in time and took written humor someplace it hadn’t been before.
At the time the Lampoon started in 1970 the country was undergoing a kind of mass psychosis consisting of equal parts of Vietnam, the Baby Boom youth culture led by the Beatles, and the relatively new phenomenon of universal college education. All of these things led to the so-called “generation gap,” a greater divide between generations than we have seen in this country before or since—until the last couple of years, that is. For the first time in the age of mass media there was a whole population of rebellious, educated young people looking for entertainment that spoke to them. The New Yorker had expressed the right opinions to suit that generation, it opposed the war and so on, yet it did not speak to them in their language.
The Lampoon was a more visceral response to a certain moment in time, and in particular to continuing the Vietnam War and the political establishment behind the war. It’s significant that when Richard Nixon resigned in disgrace in 1974, and that establishment was seen as overthrown, the Lampoon’s reason for being suddenly disappeared, and it began a swift decline. By 1980 it was creatively and financially dead, though it limped along in various lesser forms into the nineties. In its final days as an online publication it became a pale imitation of the Onion, which was some kind of poetic justice, or injustice.
Today, of course, the National Lampoon is known primarily as a god-awful movie franchise, which regularly spews out such abominations as Van Wilder. In the beginning, however, it was a brilliant magazine. In less than five years after it began the Lampoon extended its franchise successfully into books, record albums, stage shows, and a radio series called The National Lampoon Radio Hour, which was, characteristically, 30 minutes long. That’s where Christopher Guest and the other Spinal Tap performers got their start. When the Lampoon did get into the movie business, their first features, Animal House and National Lampoon’s Vacation, were commercially and critically successful.
Oddly enough, the one nut they were never able to crack was television, and this is one more thing they have in common with the Onion. Another Lampoon alumnus is Tony Hendra (you may recognize him as band manager Ian Faith in the movie Spinal Tap). In his book Going Too Far Hendra describes how the Lampoon’s cleverest writers defected from their employer precisely because of its failure to penetrate the world’s most popular medium. They helped Lorne Michaels start Saturday Night Live, essentially creating the fake television news format when they turned the Lampoon’s News On the March feature into Weekend Update.
More recently, in an ironic example of history repeating itself, writers like Ben Karlin and David Javerbaum left the Onion to take charge of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. Just as Saturday Night Live was an unofficial spinoff of the National Lampoon, The Daily Show and The Colbert Report were unofficial spinoffs of the Onion. These are the TV shows the Onion should have been doing if it could get its act together as a business. For the past decade or so the Onion has been trying to rectify this mistake by getting into the online viral video business. Thus, instead of conquering the old form of video entertainment, television, they may succeed through bypassing it altogether for a new form. They have experienced many ups and downs, and the jury is still out.
Having examined the Onion’s history and influences, let’s look at what makes it unique. The Onion has cornered the market on a special brand of funny news. But how do they do it? How do they create this level of material week in and week out?
First let’s mark the differences between fake news as it existed before the Onion, and after. Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update is always very specifically topical, its funny headlines reflecting exactly what was in the news that week. The Onion is often topical that way, and has become more topical in recent years due to competitive pressures from all directions, but it is still not topical as much or as often as you might think. Usually the Onion is more what I would call generically topical. They don’t always base their fake news on a particular piece of real news. And when they do, it is more often to make some larger satirical point.
For instance, when tornadoes hit the Midwest one week, the Onion headline was, “Tornado Violence: Could It Be Caused By Tornadic Images In The Media?” That is flat-out brilliant satire, taking a real-life event—a tragedy, in fact—and turning it into a much broader comment on Hollywood, political correctness and sloppy reasoning. The coining of the fake, pompous-sounding word “tornadic” is particularly clever. That is something you will never see on any of the late-night shows. But how do you get there creatively?
When I started writing for the Onion I found it helpful to think through the process in depth, analyzing it and creating my own 10 rules for writing fake headlines the Onion way. I know my rules work, because in addition to using them myself I have mentored several young writers into becoming Onion contributors over the years.
Rule Number 1: The headline comes first. With real news, of course, the story is written first, then the headline. But we’re making the news up, remember? Headlines like “Court Takes Custody Of Harley From Unfit Motorcycle Mama” are not based on actual events. Writing the headline first also helps test and perfect the comedic premise of the story. Which brings us to:
Rule Number 2: The whole joke must be present in the headline. Why? Because with fake news as with real news, some people only read headlines, and you want them to get the essence of the joke. Also, the Onion is a communal enterprise in which any headline can be assigned to any writer to complete the story. This is one reason they don’t give bylines. One of the first Onion ideas I had rejected was called “Death Takes A Holiday.” It was a story about Death needing a little time off to put up some paneling in his rec room. It was actually a fairly funny story, but it failed to make the cut because it didn’t focus on the headline first. After I understood that, I was able to write headline jokes that were complete in themselves, such as “Mental Hospital Fire Leaves Hundreds Of Demons Homeless” and “134-Year-Old Man Attributes Longevity To Typographical Error.”
Rule Number 3: Keep it short. A two-word funny headline that contains a complete joke is perhaps the hardest thing in the world to write (besides a large check). Twelve words is about the maximum for a good Onion headline, five or six words a good target. Subheads should be used sparingly because they can become a form of cheating. One of my bits in the book Our Dumb Century is on a front page dated February 4, 1932. Under the section entitled Business News is the simple headline “Apple Sold,” which encapsulates in two words the business climate of the Great Depression, a climate we are probably on the verge of learning about all over again. A little later I did a brief news item entitled “Cricket Located.” I have tried in vain, many times, to write a one-word headline joke. That feat continues to elude me.
Rule Number 4: Both quality and quantity count when generating funny ideas. The Onion staff discipline used to be to submit 25 headlines at each weekly meeting—a discipline I kept for many years. The group task of winnowing through the many hundreds or thousands of ideas submitted each week is ruthless. It consists of a quorum of the full-time editors and writers congregating in a conference room and pitching their own ideas along with many submitted by freelancers. That process is brutal. Total unanimity is not needed for an idea to succeed, but if even one person absolutely hates it, it generally gets thrown on the trash heap of history. There is an ebb and flow to the process, and one sometimes senses that the Onion writers have tired of an idea or a style before their audience has, which I suppose is a good thing. The Onion Editor-in-Chief used to keep a running index of about 5,000 headlines, which was constantly pruned. Many good ideas made that list only to fall off without being used. Only about 15 find their way into print each week. I don’t know if they still maintain that master list. The competition is fierce and becomes more intense every year. So many headlines are submitted now that the weekly quota has been reduced from 25 to 15, giving writers like me even fewer chances to make it into the paper.
Rule Number 5: Use topical subjects mainly to get at larger issues. Again, this is not the approach of Saturday Night Live and Weekend Update. For instance, my headline “Gay Gene Isolated, Ostracized” is hopefully funny, yes, but the humor is also intended as a broader comment. Normally the word “rape” should never appear in a joke, but I tried to kill two birds with one stone when I wrote: “Raped Environment Led Polluters On, Defense Attorneys Argue.” Hopefully the larger satirical purpose justifies the liberties taken. Very often this kind of satire can be aimed at our consumer culture, with stories like “Pantene Introduces New Behavioral Conditioner” and “Learning Channel Switches To All-Gilligan Format.”
Rule Number 6: The Onion’s mainstays have always been a catchall category I call “pure goofiness, non sequiturs, and reductio ad absurdum.” I think you know what goofiness is. It’s headlines like the very first cover story I wrote for the paper, “Dalai Lama Decks Photographer In Disco Melee.” Non sequitur is Latin for “It does not follow.” Some examples would be “Vocalist Leaves Journey Tribute Band Over Creative Differences,” “Supermodels Form Hall Of Justice To Protect Ordinary Models,” and “Rubenesque Woman Has Picassoesque Face.” Reductio ad absurdum is another bit of Latin, a fancy way of saying you’re taking a premise to its logical (yet absurd) conclusion. You might start with the premise of Civil War reenactments and end up with the headline, “Civil War Enthusiasts Burn Atlanta To Ground.” Or another one from Our Dumb Century, “FDR’s Remains To Run For Fifth Term.”
Rule Number 7: Raise the trivial to the significant. In short, take something utterly unimportant and treat it like front-page news. I tried this with headlines like “Star Trek Introduces Character With Totally Different Forehead Wrinkles,” “Nation’s Substitute Teachers Would Like To Know Who Threw That,” and “Birthday Boy Admits Accepting Gifts.” Of course, raising the trivial to the significant is what made stars of those famously mundane Onion characters, Area Man and Area Woman. Every Onion contributor enjoys writing about those two. One of my efforts was “Nutrisystem Helps Area Man Lose $277.”
Rule Number 8: Lower the significant to the trivial. This was my aim with such headlines as “Nation’s Educators Alarmed By Poorly Written Teen Suicide Notes” “Aching Void Filled By Profusion Of Goods,” and “10th Circle Added To Rapidly Growing Hell.” The latter took on a life of its own, getting transformed into the title of an Onion book, Dispatches From The 10th Circle, and becoming the first and so far the only Onion story to be sold to Hollywood (I wrote the headline, Todd Hanson wrote the story). It was bought by DreamWorks to be made into an animated feature film. And no, I never saw a dime of that money. In fact, I never heard about the sale from the Onion. I read about it in the Chicago Tribune like everyone else. Still, I can say that Steven Spielberg bought something of mine. But I digress . . .
Rule Number 9: Report: Fake research can be howlingly funny. Adding a fake authority to fake news can notch up the laughter, as in headlines like “Report: Aspirin Taken Daily With Bottle Of Bourbon Reduces Awareness Of Heart Attacks,” “Human Feet Originally Used For Walking, Anthropologists Report,” and “Study: Nonconformity Linked To Peer Pressure.”
Rule Number 10: Clever reiteration works. Did I mention that clever reiteration works? We don’t know why—probably it has something to do with timing or rhythm, or something in our evolutionary history. But the humor of reiteration is what I was going for in these headlines: “New Starbucks Opens In Rest Room Of Existing Starbucks,” “Department Of Health, Education And Welfare To Destroy Nation’s Health, Education And Welfare,” “Billy Joel Has Billy Joel’s Disease,” “AIDS Awareness Campaign Spreads Awareness, AIDS,” “Test Tube Baby Reunited With Test Tube,” “Man Prone To Lying Beds Woman Prone To Lying Prone,” and my personal favorite, with three reiterations in just five words, “New Envelope Pushes Envelope Envelope.” One of my colleagues then came up with another good reiteration joke: “Friend Of Friend Better Friend Than Friend.” Seven words, with four repetitions of one word. He beat me! The gauntlet has definitely been thrown. I tried and tried to come up with a topper for that one, but no luck.
So much for the 10 rules of writing for the Onion.
In the interest of journalistic integrity and full disclosure, I must admit that the overwhelming popularity of the Onion’s fake news format is not necessarily all good news. One potential danger of getting too much news “fortified with irony” is that it may cause a toxic level of cynicism about people and institutions—a comedy writer’s occupational hazard, as I can personally attest.
I also worry that it may foster a lack of depth, an environment where all news becomes “infotainment,” mere fodder for punch lines. There are signs that fake news may even have begun to overtake real news for some of us. A number of research reports have found that a significant percent of young people get their news from comedy shows like Saturday Night Live and The Daily Show. Should we be troubled by this? Or glad that at least our more laughter-loving young people are getting their news somewhere? It may be the comedy-writing cynic in me, but I can’t help but wonder—are we more likely to self-destruct from cynicism . . . or naïveté?
Which leads me to another question that will occur to most religious believers (of which, I hasten to add, I am not one): Is nothing sacred? Is there anything a spiritually-minded comedy writer won’t, on principle, make fun of? Or even a “spiritual but not religious” comedy writer like myself? For me, the short answer is: no.
Let me expand on that a bit. When the members of Monty Python sat down to write the script that became Life of Brian, they were originally going to call it Jesus Christ—Lust for Glory. Remember, though, these were Cambridge men, Oxford men. They knew how to do their homework. So to prepare themselves for the task they all read the Gospels. And a funny, unexpected thing happened. No, none of them were converted. But they quickly realized that, while they might not accept Jesus as God, just as I cannot, neither could they ridicule Him. He was too real for that. The Gospels were too sobering. So they came up with the idea of a reluctant false messiah, a man living a life parallel to Jesus, this man Brian who was mistaken for the Savior and crucified right along with Him. What a clever way to make fun of the various ways that humans misuse religion and yet still allow the humorists to maintain their newfound respect for Jesus.
The point of the story is: context. In comedy as in any other art, context matters.
All that said, when you see something downright sacrilegious in the Onion or the Onion books, it (probably) wasn’t written by me. However, I do believe there is a way to find humor in almost anything. A silly example would be “Nation’s Stray Dogs Call For Increased Wino-Vomit Production.” Now that’s just gross, scatological body function humor. But following the Amish comedy writing principle of only using words that can be found in the Bible, well, we do find wine and vomit and dogs in there, don’t we? I did write one profane headline that they never used: “‘Jesus Fucking Christ!’ Prays Monk With Tourette’s.” No comment necessary.
A less silly example would be my story “God Answers Prayers Of Paralyzed Little Boy; ‘No,’ Says God.” Admittedly, that is dark. So dark that the Onion later made it into a refrigerator magnet so that they could spread the joy! It makes you laugh and cringe at the same time, and it’s meant to. But if you are a religious believer, it also happens to be theologically sound. And it tries to find a comedic outlet for some genuine human pain around the issues of free will, divine intervention, and a world where the principalities and powers still think they’re calling the shots, and paralyzed little boys do in fact die with their prayers not answered the way we would wish.
Staying with the idea of context for a moment, what is the context for the Onion itself? If the New Yorker came out of the Roaring Twenties and the National Lampoon out of the rebellious sixties, what is the significance of the Onion coming to prominence in what might be called the Nothing Nineties? I mean, that was the Clinton decade. Was there a crying need to make fun of Clinton? This was a president about whom the average citizen could easily write their own punch lines.
I believe the context for the Onion was less political than social and technological. The Onion was the first original product to arise from and address the internet age. The context for the Onion is a nation swiftly leaving behind the hegemony of three major television networks, a time when new music still debuted on the radio, when movies could only be seen in theatres or in TV reruns, and when big city newspapers still dreamed they could tell people what to think. The world that has been emerging is one in which there are many media and a potentially infinite number of channels in each medium, including social media.
Make no mistake, no one is a bigger fan than I am of this world of ever-expanding, user-based media. I love freedom. I love having choices. But I would also argue that this world has tended to make us more focused on the transient moment. I call it “living in the narcissistic bubble of the now.” Instead of the shared experience of our common humanity, which has been the source of the richest humor of the past, we share mainly the superficial recounting of mostly trivial events and nonevents. Humor and comedy have become almost exclusively topical and separated from the stream of history and genuine humanity. As we have seen, the Onion has found some clever ways around this problem by being generically topical. Yet it must be admitted that to some extent, the Onion and the revolution it helped usher in are also part of the problem.
And because of that, some of us in the humor writing business have begun to bite the hands that feed us. The New Yorker continues to publish some of the best humorous prose in the country, but it no longer leads the pack. The torch for the type of literary humor that is not in the Onion fake news mold has been passed to a group of half a dozen online literary humor magazines. The one that started it all is McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and the others, such as my own publication The Big Jewel (now defunct), were inspired by it. While the combined audience for these sites is nowhere near that of the Onion, their influence among humor writers and readers is extensive. Many of the best humor writers alive at the moment appear in these venues. It remains to be seen whether these small fish, swimming against what appears to be the tide of history, can make a difference.
Lately McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, along with the Onion and the New Yorker, has become much more topical and political in the Trump era. While I understand the impulse and timing of it, I question whether this is the best move creatively or culturally, or even politically. Why should one substandard politician be allowed to suck up all the oxygen in the room? Wouldn’t it be more of an actual victory to focus on other things, to show that life goes on? Which, in fact, it does. Nor is most of what matters in life about politics or ideology, which, in the end, are so hideously goddamned boring even to ridicule. (Here endeth the sermon.)
It is sad, comedically and creatively, that the great majority of online humor sites and late-night TV shows only lean left or even hard left. On the right or center-right in late night, there is only Gutfeld, and it doesn’t surprise me that he is bigger than all the rest. In his niche he’s running unopposed. On the right in online humor, there is only the Babylon Bee, to which the Onion seems to have unintentionally passed the torch, because the Onion has somewhat succumbed to wokeness and political one-sidedness. When President Biden announced that his Supreme Court nominee would be a Black woman, the Babylon Bee’s headline was “Biden Seen Looking At Paint Color Swatches To Choose Next Supreme Court Justice.” In bygone years that could have been an Onion story. No more.
I don’t pretend to know the answers to all of these questions about the ascendancy of fake news as the uber-comedy of our time. But I do know that whatever its dangers, such comedy can also function as prophecy, truth-telling and a way to keep the powerful honest, if it doesn’t pull its punches for political reasons, as the Onion has been doing since at least the 2016 election. I’m reminded of the infamous essay by Jonathan Swift, “A Modest Proposal.” Swift used a savage satiric premise worthy of the Onion—cannibalism, of babies, no less—to expose England’s oppression of the Irish. The Onion’s first post-9/11 issue played a similar role in helping us deal with the terror attacks, with stories like “Hijackers Surprised To Find Selves In Hell” and “God Angrily Clarifies ‘Don’t Kill’ Rule.” Would that they recommitted to that kind of satiric relevance.
Finally, I have discovered an unexpected of benefit of learning how to write fake headlines: It sharpened my ability to interpret and judge real ones. You see, once you become an expert at putting a funny spin on the news, you become an expert at spotting the spin. That’s one very practical thing that understanding the place of the Onion in the history of American comedy can do for us. Developing critical thinking and discernment is one serious thing that the 10 rules for writing funny headlines can teach us. That’s one possible answer to some of the troubling questions we’ve looked at, and to those who wonder whether satire serves or should serve any higher purpose. And that’s all...good news.
After years of writing humor for the New Yorker, the Onion and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, among others, Kurt Luchs returned to his first love, poetry, like a wounded animal crawling into its burrow to die. In 2017 Sagging Meniscus Press published his humor collection, It’s Funny Until Someone Loses an Eye (Then It’s Really Funny), which has since become an international non-bestseller. In 2019 his poetry chapbook One of These Things Is Not Like the Other was published by Finishing Line Press, and he won the Atlanta Review International Poetry Contest, proving that dreams can still come true and clerical errors can still happen. His first full-length poetry collection, Falling in the Direction of Up, is out from Sagging Meniscus as of May 2021.