Hits (And Misses) From My Writing Class With The Onion

second city writer room

national lampoon vincent van gogh cover

In April 1992 I fell in love with National Lampoon Magazine.

I bought my first issue at a local drugstore and raced home, excited to find out if this would be a worthy successor to my Mad Magazine fascination as a child. I had matured, albeit slightly, and was seeking a more sophisticated type of funny. I found it in National Lampoon. I decided after reading the issue that I would make it a life’s goal to write something worthy of the magazine’s inclusion. The problem was that as a sophomore in high school, I had never written anything. Plus, I was unfunny. Oh, and the National Lampoon quit publishing about a year later. I shelved the dream of being a writer and re-focused my efforts on trying to bone senior Ashley Ripley who once smiled at me in homeroom, to which I assumed meant she wanted this (note – pointing currently at self). She didn’t.

About seven years ago I started ThoughtsFromParis because I figured I would DIY the dream of being a humor writer. Which sort of worked for the first few posts but then I ran out of stories. I knew that if I was going to continue I would need to talk more about myself. My blog became less about hilarious stories and more about finding the chuckle of everyday life. I have a normal job and not too much crazy happens to me on the regular.

After many years of writing about myself I feel that I have developed a strong skill set in this type of writing. But it’s never been what I wanted to do creatively. My dream was always to make up funny and outrageous stories that weren’t about me. Thankfully, some old National Lampoon editors have revived the idea with the hilarious print magazine American Bystander, and I’m close to submitting my first piece, which (at least the title) was well received by their editor in chief.

I also realized, in trying to complete the Bystander article, that I have very little ability in writing anything other than in the style of this dumb blog. I reached out to my friend Tim O’Malley for advice. Tim is one of the big-deals at Second City and knows what to do about such matters. He recommended a class that The Onion developed in partnership with Second City. I signed up immediately.

Over the remainder of this writing course I’ll be honing skills on how to write headlines and articles in the style of The Onion’s humor. Each week we submit ten headlines and one article to be evaluated and discussed by the professor and students. As a blogger, I’m not used to instant feedback. If I think something is good, I write it and click publish. Being in this class I’ve learned that not everything I pen resonates with other human beings. Watching something I’ve written fall flat in a room of other funny people is humbling and humiliating. It’s also a lot of fun.

second city writer room
The writer’s room where all our work is presented and judged.

Because I’m putting a ton of energy into this class I thought it might be interesting to post my weekly submissions. Please understand I know not all of these are winners. To get to ten headlines, I write close to fifty and edit down. I then take the strongest one of the ten and write a full article. This first batch was presented to the class the other night, and most of them were well-received.

By the way, these headlines and articles are in a very specific Onion style, called News in Brief.

– Headlines –

  • Neighborhood Rabid Raccoon Wondering When Persecution Will End
  • Study Finds Dogs Prefer Organic GMO-Free Kibble – Also Garbage
  • Man Bravely Reheats Last Night’s Salmon Scaloppini In Company Microwave
  • Chipotle CEO Admits He Has No Idea What Barbacoa Is
  • Old Country Buffet in Shreveport Snubbed By Michelin. Again.
  • Actual Shithole Countries Excited To Be In News
  • Local Area Sexual Harasser Thrilled He’s Not A Celebrity These Days
  • Study Finds High School Sex Down 44% – Teen Skanks Devastated
  • Whole 30 Promises to Be Next Diet You Fail At

– Article –

Kevin Spacey Fan Club President Undeterred That Membership Is Down 8000%

SIOUX CITY, IA—Despite numerous shocking sexual abuse allegations against Hollywood actor Kevin Spacey, acting 2018 president of the a-lister’s fan club, Sherman Phillips, remains steadfast in supporting the celebrity through a fan-site and monthly print newsletter. “2017 was a tough year for our organization. Most of the management resigned, along with 97% of members,” Phillips said alluding to the actor’s troubles in the press, adding that they have begun selling rubber bracelets inscribed with WWFUD – What Would Frank Underwood Do in order to raise funds to keep the organization solvent. “Those [bracelets] are not selling well. However, we have a K-PAX temporary tattoo coming out next month which I believe will be a big hit with our remaining members.” When asked about the morality of keeping such a fan club active, Phillips deflected by launching into an impression of Spacey’s character from Glengarry Glen Ross where Spacey yells repeatedly at Alan Arkin to go to lunch.

8 thoughts on “Hits (And Misses) From My Writing Class With The Onion”

  1. Dawn says:

    Hilarious! My fave headline? “Study Finds Dogs Prefer Organic GMO-Free Kibble – Also Garbage”. What a great opportunity – and also I might be a little jealous. Just a little….

    1. Marcy L says:

      That’s my favorite too. it sounds like a great (and intimidating!) class

      1. D.J. Paris says:

        It is great and intimidating! But so are most worthwhile things in life, I guess. Thanks for reading!

    2. D.J. Paris says:

      I think they have online classes, too! Sign up!

  2. Allison Arnone says:

    Those headlines were perfect and VERY apropos & Onion-like. Kudos!

    1. D.J. Paris says:

      Thank you! I have another set due tomorrow night and I’m only like 20% there. Turns out being funny consistently is not easy. LIFE IS HARD AND UNFAIR.

  3. jonahgibson says:

    ‘Also garbage’ – a clear winner. ‘Salmon scaloppini,’ though, is my personal favorite because it has just the right mix of gentle defiance and abject cluelessness. To my mind the genius of The Onion rests in its ability to be frequently taken for real news on social media feeds. This is probably easier nowadays than it used to be, but it’s still a notable accomplishment.

    1. D.J. Paris says:

      Thanks – the real challenge for me is having something to say. The Onion is all about satire, not just jokes, so to have a point of view and make it succinct and relevant and timely is a tall order. Probably why there’s only one The Onion! 🙂

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