|FUNYUNS: A GUIDE TO THE ONION'S MANY, MANY KNOCK-OFFS.|
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then it's quite possible that on the Web, no one has been flattered more often than the Onion. There are at least 15 sites, possibly more, that use the satirical news/fake headline format to lampoon everything from the politics to sports to the "area man."
Why so many when the Onion seems to do so well? First, it's relatively easy to create news satire content: Who hasn't thought up an Onion-like headline? More importantly, because many of the site
owners don't think the Onion covers the entire potential audience.
Brian Briggs, editor of bbspot.com, says he began his site in April 2000 because "couldn't find anything that I found truly funny on the Internet." Now, he says his site fills a void.
"What sets us apart is that we focus on geeky topics as opposed to the general audience that The Onion appeals to," Biggs said.
Many of the Onion's lookalikes have found a great deal of success. BBspot has been Biggs full-time job since January 2003, made possible by what he says are 1.5 to 2 million page views a month. "We put out a variety of quality humor on a consistent basis," he said.
Though the Onion declined to be interviewed for this story, last February one writer did provide an insight into how they view their imitators: they want them to fuck off.
"When I hear about people who want to write for The Onion, I'm just kind of like, 'Do your own damn thing! Develop your own voice!'" Onion writer Maria Schneider told Mediabistro.com. "And the huge amount of parody news that has come up in reaction to The Onion -- I guess this sounds bitchy, but I don't really think they have a reason to exist... When I hear about The Onion having imitators, I just think, 'Why? Do us one better. Think of something else that we haven't thought of.'"
Satire site editors tend to bristle when they're told they copy the Onion's formula. Bill Doty, editor of BrokenNewz.com, said that when he first read the comment from Schneider, he was steamed at first, "then it just made me pity her."
"I believe anyone who has their own site is finding their own voice," said Doty, who has also turned his site into a full-time job and estimates his sites averages a million page views a month.
Like The Onion, Just Differenter.
The Onion has inspired a ton of imitators and pretenders to the fake news throne. Here's a look at some of 'em, on a scale of one Funyun (worst) to five Funyuns (best).
|Site -- Sample Headline||Rating|
|SatireWire -- "STUDY: WOMEN WHO DRINK MORE FUN TO STUDY"|
|BBspot -- "Impressive Hair Leads to Kerry Win in New Hampshire"|
|BrokenNewz -- "Ultrasounds of the Rich and Famous Called New Direction in Reality TV"|
Report -- "IN LATEST ATTACK AD, KERRY MORPHS INTO JACKO"
|The Chortler -- "John Kerry Denies Seeing Other Condiments"|
Wired Press -- "Hacker group threatens to release virus to
make Windows work properly"
|Bob From Accounting -- "Unpopular 5th Grader Overwhelmed by Mandatory Valentine's Cards"|
|The Specious Report -- "Anyone But Bush Increases Lead Against Undecided"|
Daily Bull -- "Hobo Sells Outdated Calenders"
|The Toque -- "Dog Is No Longer Man's Best Friend"|
|Humor is Dead -- "Billy Squier, Eddie Money Square Off in Bar Fight Over Jukebox Selection"|
|The Fake News -- "Gibson "Passion" Shocker: Carbs Killed Christ!"|
|Glossy News -- "Children's Piano Duet 3rd Worst in World History"|
|NewsHax -- "WTBS Announces Switch to New 24-hour All-Swayze Format"|
|Ridiculopathy -- "Study: America's Health System Best In World- Just Don't Get Sick"|
|The Spoof -- "Dick No Longer Appropriate Nickname Says Congresswoman"|
|Sperts -- "TV fans flock to see dude throwing ball"|
|The Becker Sports Report -- "Steinbrenner, as child, built Little League dynasty"|
|Sportalicious -- "RODEO CLOWN FOUND IN BEER KEG!"|
|Sportsgoons -- "Clemens and Pettitte Take Next Step, Move in Together"|
"Eventually The Onion will need someone young and in touch. [Schneider] will then go off to try and write an novel and spend the rest of your life starting converstations with 'I use to write for The Onion.'"
Andy Borowitz, editor of Borowitzreport.com, had another take: he thought Schneider was being unintentionally funny.
"I was writing parody news back in the seventies on The Harvard Lampoon," said Borowitz, pointing to other news parody publications such as the National Lampoon and Not The York Times, which was produced by George Plimpton in the 1970s. "The Onion is hardly a pioneer in this field -- quite the opposite, in fact. They're a very recent incarnation of a very old form."
"As for 'imitators' -- all writing is an imitation of something, at least initially. Most writers begin their careers by emulating someone else they admire. I get mail all of the time from people trying to imitate my site. Some of them are funny, some are not. I encourage the funny ones. Why not?"
Brandon Stahl is the co-editor of Lost Brain.