Onion co-founder extols the virtues of humor

The phrase “A living eight-pound man has been rescued from a woman’s vagina” does not come up at a typical Master’s Tea.

But it was one of the many headlines from the spoof newspaper The Onion that amused the audience at a Pierson Master’s Tea Thursday with Onion co-founder and former Editor-in-Chief Scott Dikkers. Dikkers discussed how The Onion is written and published, the philosophy behind its humor and the current state of American comedy.

“We just go by our own barometer of taste,” Dikkers said of The Onion’s article-selection process.

Several students at the crowded tea asked questions about the line between satirical and offensive humor. But Dikkers said the ambiguous distinction between the two is exactly what makes the parody paper and its popular Web site so funny.

“Humor comes when you hone in on the truth, especially when people are trying to avoid that truth,” Dikkers said.

He cited the example of a headline that ran shortly after the shootings at Columbine High School: “Columbine jocks safely resume bullying.”

Dikkers, who left The Onion a year ago to pursue a career in movies, said the paper’s social commentary “is not an attempt to make a statement. We just have something to say and humor is the best way to do it.”

Dikkers also commented on The Onion’s response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. He said he thought the issue struck exactly the right tone, in contrast to other comedians such as Jay Leno who were overly serious in the wake of the attacks.

“People were way over the top, saying ‘You can’t laugh at anything,’” Dikkers said. “[But] humor is a vital part of the coping process.”

Dikkers said The Onion’s humor is of a different sort than most American comedy. He said most sitcoms and movies are a “pacifying” kind of comedy “for stupid people to chuckle at stupid things.”

“But The Onion is satire that makes intelligent people laugh at themselves,” Dikkers said.

Nevertheless, “dumb people should have entertainment just like the rest of us,” Dikkers said. He cited “The Simpsons” as an example of layered comedy that all strata of American society can enjoy.

“Dumb people can say, ‘Ha ha, the fat man [Homer Simpson] burped,’” Dikkers said, adding that people with more refined senses of humor appreciate the show’s references to politics and literature.

The Onion also manages to strike a chord with those with simplistic comedic tastes, Dikkers said.

“Dumb people appreciate the bright color photos and the swear words,” Dikkers said.

In addition to discussing his years at The Onion, Dikkers showed a short clip from a film he is trying to make about Eskimos invading America and played a tape of short clips of news spoofs from The Onion Radio Network.

Headlines from the radio clips included “Jesus Christ has hired an associate Christ,” “Either Zsa Zsa or Eva Gabor is dead” and “Family of four has been rescued from a burning house by a homosexual.”

This last audio clip said the rescuer retrieved the people from the burning house and then “collapsed on the lawn exhausted and gay.”

Students who attended the crowded tea said that they really enjoyed it.

“It was really good,” said Jacques Ntonme ’05. “He talked about humor as an art form.”

Comments