That boring content you've been shoving down everybody's throats is literally hurting their heads.
New research conclusively shows the words "delightful," "awesome," "game-changing" and about 57 others trigger migraines and malaise, worsening the national apathy that has allowed the most boorish, crass or truth averse candidates to rise to the top of the political stage.
OK ... none of this is (verifiably) true. We're pulling your legs, tickling your fancies, doing all that crazy stuff that presumably results in at worst a smile or at best a laugh.
Actually, we're just setting the stage for a conversation with the founding editor of the news site everyone arguably wishes were real, The Onion. So chillax, keep reading and ask yourself a question:
How funny is your content?
Funny Ha Ha Beats a Yawn
At a time when advertisers, publishers and businesses all inundate people with words, images, video and more, content creators need a way to set themselves apart.
As with any craft, standout work usually sells. In the content business, entertaining content performs well, spreads the widest and yields the greatest returns. That's something Mary Meeker's latest internet trends report backs up: Most people mute ads and use ad blockers, but short, entertaining Snapchat ads still see tens of millions of views.
So what can you do? One strategy is to make 'em laugh, as Scott Dikkers, a man who has devoted about a quarter century of his life to the Chicago-based news satire organization that publishes The Onion, learned early in his career.
Lie to Everyone
In 1988, Dikkers joined Onion founders Tim Keck and Christopher Johnson, then students at the University of Wisconsin, to draw comic strips. Fueled by the desire to run their own business, they started The Onion as a weekly print publication and evolved to online in 1996.
Dikkers eventually bought out the founders. He also served as editor-in-chief of the satirical news site twice — from 1988 to 1999 and again from 2005 to 2008 — and was General Manager and Vice President of Creative Development from 2012 to 2014.
The original idea was a satirical magazine, but newsprint was cheapest to print on, Dikkers told CMSWire. Even after establishing the name and content, it took time for readers to catch on that The Onion did not produce "real" news or rely on actual reporting. And on the business side, it was initially challenging to convince advertisers that readers would take their ads seriously.
“It took us years to convince people the ads were real,” he said. But eventually, he concluded, the "fake news we’d been doing … was really working the best,”
Mastering Comedy: Be Original, Find Your Style
In 2014, Dikkers published “How to Write Funny.” The book is the basis of the Writing with The Onion program he created and teaches at The Second City Training Center in Chicago. It's aimed at aspiring comedians, advertisers, writers and other professionals on writing funny material.
“When I was a kid wanting to get into comedy, there really was no how-to book,” Dikkers said.
He also produces The Comedy Insider podcast, which features comedy professionals like Todd Rosenberg and Jerry Rocha.
Dikkers believes one of the biggest challenges today is being original. There are new channels and sites every day trying to do comedy, he explained. How do you “break through?”
“How do you get people to read your writing?”
Those newer to the funny business try to reinvent the wheel, often doing what they already see when they should be doing “something nobody’s ever seen before,” Dikkers said.
In general, avoid cliches.
“Using jokes that have already been used, phrases you’ve heard other people use for humorous effect … That really is the one thing that makes the difference between a professional comedy writer and an amateur comedy writer. The amateur is going to use a lot of cliches, and the professional is not.”
Part of being original and writing original jokes means finding your style. In what Dikkers calls “funny filters,” where we take an idea and layer on one of 11 literary devices to reach a joke.
“When you’re writing humor, you have to use one of 11 different funny filters,” Dikkers said. “The only way a joke is ever going to have a chance to work, they have to meet the requirements of one of these 11 different joke types.”
Irony, for instance, is one of these filters, where writers use the opposite of what they are trying to say to create a comedic effect. Another easier filter is hyperbole, or exaggerating what you actually mean to say.
“Hyperbole in comedy is not the same as just regular exaggeration. It has to be exaggeration to an impossible extreme.”
Transforming the Business
After a few years of running the business, Dikkers decided to make The Onion look like a complete newspaper parody, with comics, editorial and a front page like any local daily would.
“We were the only humor website when we went online,” he said.
From there, readership ballooned, a book deal came through and major media sites took notice. Dikkers remembers the internet crash in 2001 when some major sites went under, but The Onion survived as its competitors disappeared, mainly because the Onion was still publishing both on- and offline.
By the time print advertising took a dive around 2007, The Onion already shifted ad revenue to online, which helped it stay afloat during that second crash, Dikkers said.
Dikkers will be speaking at the FunnyBizz conference in San Francisco today.