It must be fun to be a writer at the The Onion. You get paid to compose utterly ridiculous and hilarious satirical content based off the actual news on a daily basis, likely laughing your ass off the entire day.
But how does the process of writing those matter-of-fact and at times degrading headlines and stories actually work?
Tim Keck, who co-founded The Onion back in 1988 and sold it one year later, spoke at last week’s Seattle Interactive Conference and provided a five-step guide for writing an Onion article.
It is also handy for your LinkedIn profile, apparently.
“Take these techniques for Linkedin and you will super juice it,” said Keck, who went on to found an alternative Seattle weekly paper called The Stranger.
Without further ado, here’s how to write an Onion story:
1. Include The Elephant
Keck said that The Onion is famous for “including the elephant.”
“This is the thing that everyone is thinking about, but that you would never see in an article,” he said. “Then, you write it as straight news.”
For example, The Onion poked fun at former president Bill Clinton with the headline: “New President Feels Nation’s Pain, Breasts,” which you can see above. Also: “Amputee Children of Cambodia Award Peace Prize to Henry Kissinger.”
2. Religion is Dumb
Keck described Scott Dikkers, founding editor of The Onion who created this 5-step formula, as a “huge atheist,” along with Keck himself. They decided to use this as fuel for their publication.
“The logic of a newspaper article versus how crazy religion is … that free zone makes you laugh,” Keck said.
Examples above: “God Answers Prayers of Paralyze Little Boy,” and, “Chris Converts To Islam.”
3. The Honest Character
“Nobody speaks honestly,” said Keck. So, The Onion decided to do it on behalf of everyone and then compile stories based on that.
“If you say exactly what the person is thinking, write it in character and force them to write it completely honestly, it becomes funny,” Keck explained.
Examples: “You Know, I Used To Be Kind Of Cool Once,” written by “Sting,” and, “Does This Cock Ring Make Me Look Fat?”
4. The Big/Small Switcheroo
This step focuses on talking about big things in a small way, and vice versa.
“Write about a big event as if you were a regular person,” Keck said. “It’s like a third of The Onion articles.”
You can also write about something we all recognize, change it to AP Style and “magically, it’s funny,” Keck said.
Examples: “Holy S***, Man Walks On F****** Moon,” and “Sales Manager Gets A Little Crazy At Office Party.”
5. Write Something As Mean As Possible
Finally, to write an Onion article, you can be as mean as possible.
“This is something writers love,” Keck said.
Keck said that since The Onion wasn’t really “subversive,” it needed something that gave the publication energy.
“Being incredibly mean is that thing,” he said.
It also helps that The Onion’s writers can pen stories under a pseudonym, which gives them the freedom to write as mean as possible.
Example: “U.S. Troops Pull Out Of Vietnamese Peasant Girl.”
Editor note: This story incorrectly referenced the Bill Clinton headline and has since been fixed.
Previously on GeekWire: Onion co-founder says satirical publication ‘doesn’t make a lot of sense in the future’