Two staffers from satirical newspaper The Onion gave a presentation at the University of Rochester's Strong Auditorium Thursday night, and not surprisingly, hilarity ensued. Head Writer Seth Reiss and Features Editor Cole Bolton discussed the "history" (I use that term loosely) of The Onion, some of the most famous headlines it has printed over the years, the creative process that goes into an issue, and read some of the angry letters received by the paper.
If laughter really is the best medicine, the people in the audience got a heavy dose. The event seemed more like a stand-up comedy show than anything else, but it was also surprisingly educational. It was obvious that the duo knew how to work a crowd, Reiss in particular, and it was not much of a shocker when he said he worked in sketch comedy for several years.
The presentation had the same mentality as The Onion in general: anything and everything is fair game. This was especially notable when a section of the slideshow popped up revolving around famous people the newspaper has had "killed" over the years. Among them: Mother Teresa and University of Rochester president Joel Seligman, which easily drew the best response from the mostly student-filled crowd. They also showed charts ranking their journalistic integrity versus other publications such as The New York Times, and even University of Rochester's campus publication The Campus Times. (Not surprisingly, The Onion was ranked with a perfect score, while the other papers were given a sliver of its integrity.)
One of my personal favorite segments from show was when Reiss and Bolton did a reading of Neil Armstrong's moon landing, which was filled with more four-letter words than the average person probably hears in a week.
Perhaps the best thing that was discussed was how The Onion has fooled other news outlets around the world numerous times into thinking their stories are real, and subsequently running the satirical stories. Stories like the $8 billion Abortionplex, and a frustrated Barack Obama writing the entire nation a rambling 75,000 e-mail were just a few that have duped big names such as Fox News over the years.
While the Strong Auditorium was mostly filled with laughs during the presentation, things did take a more serious turn during the Q & A session afterwards. After somebody asked about the fallout from the Twitter incident at this year's Oscars, in which the paper referred to 9-year-old nominee Quvenzhane Wallis with an incredibly crude term, Reiss was hesitant to jump into it. But Bolton kept the issue alive and it was discussed for several minutes. This was probably the only span where the audience's roaring laughter was absent for more than a 30-second span. It was interesting to hear their side of the story, because all you really heard from The Onion before was their apology.