Monkey Conference

The Onion Writer’s Panel at the Athenaeum

A couple months ago I went to the Onion & Simpson’s writer’s panel at 2nd Annual 26th Annual Comedy Festival in Chicago. I almost didn’t go because I now [lowers to a whisper] live in the suburbs. As suburbans know, there is a mental wormhole that makes Chicago seem like 1,004 miles and a boat ride away.

But we went anyway and it was delightful. They Onion staffers introduced themselves and gave their how-I-got-here story. I wish I’d written down the names, but the new editor, Cole Bolton, was there and told his Onion story, which basically includes him as a non-comedy writer sending unsolicited headlines until he eventually got a job there.

The panel shared some of their best headlines throughout. They shared their biggest, best, and favorite ones. They shared political headlines, headlines that got mistaken for real headlines, headlines after tough, major world events, and showcased the graphic design work of their comedically gifted graphic gurus. (Here’s a great story on the Onion’s Art Department at Fast.Co.)

Some Great Onion Headlines

The Onion Process

Comedy writers have a lot of methods, depending on their medium (sketch, late night, stand up, news, etc.). For the Onion, they start with headlines. Headlines are king, and the stories issue from the headline.

The Onion staff start their week pitching headlines at the writer’s table. The pitch about 1550 headlines every week and whittle it down to the 200. They pointed out that this is a 98% failure rate.

Once they nail down the headlines, the writers go to their dark caves of inspiration–J/K they’re just desks and it’s mostly just effin’ hard work with some giggles thrown in.

And the rest is fake history.

My Onion Headlines

I’m a writer that doesn’t write (check the date stamp on my last blog post). My husband knows I’m too busy and tired trying to support the family to do comedy writing, so he’s always trying to help me get my joke on. He encouraged us to go to this event, and after the event, he made me write 10 headlines on the way home. I wrote 11.

Foxconn unveils anti-suicide roof nets called “Apple Care”
– Southwest flight attendant refers to his job as comedy tours
– Man proud to remember how to write
– New study finds free range chickens prefer indoors
– Woman’s Chinese symbol tattoo discovered to say “Inspirational Quote”
– Putin to give TED talk on vision-boarding
– Woman walks out of Target without buying anything
– Chicago suburbs home to slower, more polite gangs
– Retired spy finds joy in nonprofit espionage  
– Courageous man at party admits he doesn’t like jazz
– Body cameras reveal shocking amount of paperwork involved in being a racist cop.

For the Road

For further comedy education, check out this episode of This American Life on the Onion Process, “Tough Room.”

? Hey–what’s your headline? What’s topical this week? What’s funny? Submit your headline in the comments.