An MTV bus rolling along a Staten Island highway at 4:30 a.m. crashes and women wearing stripper clothes spill out. It’s like an oil spill — except it’s a “slut spill.”
This is a typical video on Onion News Network, network writers Carol Kolb and Jack Kukoda ’02 said as they chatted Friday afternoon with more than 60 students. Kolb and Kukoda, who spoke at a Davenport Master’s Tea organized by The Yale Record, explained their work and detailed the benefits and dangers of the comedy-writing process to an attentive audience.
The Onion News Network is a weekly web video broadcast launched in 2007 as an offshoot of the satire newspaper The Onion. Though the Web site features funny video streams, it mimics serious television journalism. Video series on the site satirize different branches of mainstream media, ranging from Onion Sports Network, which parodies sports-related programming such as ESPN, to O-Span, which parodies news networks such as C-SPAN.
“We act like we have a 24-hour network and that it’s going on all the time,” Kolb said.
Kukoda, a former writer for The Yale Record, said the network tries to “pander shamelessly to a college kid demographic.”
Regularly interrupting each other mid-sentence, the pair described how they create Onion News Network videos. The network receives 40 or 50 ideas every Monday and the writers pick 10 of them to make videos, Kolb said. The writing process starts Tuesday and involves the collaboration of eight or nine writers.
This collaboration, Kukoda said, is the best part of working at the Onion News Network.
“This is what I imagined all writing was: just reading it out loud and making jokes and trying to make each other laugh,” he said. “But it’s actually a very small part of writing.”
Added Kolb: “It’s crazy how not fun comedy can be. We want to kill each other sometimes.” Kukoda then faked a wounded look.
The Onion News Network answers only to its parent company, The Onion — a dynamic that gives the network’s producers more freedom to choose content, Kolb said.
“We do sometimes lose advertisers because of content,” she said, referring to the satirical nature of Onion News Network productions. “We’d probably be more wealthy if we did things differently.”
Yet the producers review every single piece of content carefully before broadcasting. Accuracy, the writers stressed, is an important part of comedy-writing.
“We’ll take pains to figure out what we are making fun of,” Kukoda said.
Though the network satirizes politics along with lighter topics, Kolb said its aim is not to create political change.
The audience at the Master’s Tea, made up mostly of undergraduate improv comedy group members and Record writers, filled the room with laughter.
Though Tom Sanchez ’12, a member of the Exit Players, said he did not find the comic performance he was expecting, he said he enjoyed hearing from the writers.
“I came in expecting them to come with mics, riffing,” Sanchez said. “They had a lot of legitimate material.”
Mark Sonnenblick ’12, a member of the Purple Crayon, said he appreciated the speakers’ honesty about the process. “It was cool to hear about an independent group, especially one not as entrenched as a television show,” Sonnenblick said.