Humor on the web

I was lucky enough to catch a unique panel last Thursday, part of the MIT Communications forum: Humor on the Web. Moderated by Henry Jenkins, the panel contained John Aboud and Michael Colton, co-editors of the Modern Humorist, and Tim Harrod, senior writer for The Onion.

The session began with opening remarks from the Aboud and Colton, who procured their favorite Modern Humorist gags. I took note:

Tim Harrod followed with a fuzzy-warm speech about his perfect job at The Onion. Given the audience (MIT undergraduates), he decided to tell a joke that he had been saving for quite some time:

“I understand that wizards of the coast is going to be augmenting the star wars CCG with a new holiday special card. When played, one member of your opponents party dies of boredom.”

Which, of course, was received with a deafening uproar of laughter. I sat silent in fear. He showed a few slides (yes, projection slides) of his favorite science-related onion articles, and told some stories about entertaining responses they have received via email. He was particularly impressed when Stephen Hawking responded to their story, “Stephen Hawking Builds Robotic Exoskeleton.” Considering that Hawking is said to be one of the greatest physicists alive, also said to be the Einstein of our time, he thought it was quite an honor that the man spent over an hour tracing out an email with his eyeball.

The editors received a terse and to the point response to an article describing an American Airlines plane crash: “Best-Laid Plans of Mice and Men Faulted in 747 Crash.” The one-line email said simply “Fuck You. American Airlines doesn’t fly 747’s. Captain Blah DeBlah, 767 Pilot” Mr. Harrod also relayed a few interesting facts about The Onion:

  • Historically based in Madison, Wisconsin, the entire publication is now run from Manhattan
  • The staff consists of 9 full-time writers and “a few trusted sources that provide headlines.” That’s it. No submitted stories, no freelance writers. 9 very, very funny people
  • After September 11, there was speculation that the Onion had nothing to say (until the now-famous 9/26 issue was released). In reality, writers were stranded away from their office
  • Contrary to popular belief, the Onion originated in print form around 1988, 5 years before the web even existed

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