“Who here is interested in journalism?” asks Scott Dikkers, founder of the satirical news publication, The Onion, looking out on the audience. A few hands tentatively go up, accompanied by nervous laughter through the auditorium. Dikkers grins. “Well, I don’t know jacksh*t about journalism.”
In his entertaining speech on Tuesday night, sponsored by the Council of University Programs (CUP), Scott Dikkers, launched on a colorful, hilarious retelling of his life from childhood to the start of The Onion to now, relaying anecdotes of his struggles to get into comedy and the many eccentric people that have been under The Onion’s employ.
Dikkers was, as he put it, “born into a family without a sense of humor,” so his own growing love of humor, fostered by the phenomenon of MAD Magazine, was unique. He wrote comics at first, including a popular series called “Jim’s Journal”. But it was when he was approached by two college students from the University of Wisconsin to draw comics for their campus humor newspaper that his career would take off in the form of The Onion- so named apparently because “you can never go wrong naming something after a food item.”
The best parts of Dikkers’s speech- which was more of a stand-up comedy routine than anything else- came in his descriptions of the many people who had written for The Onion over the years.
“People say they search high and low for things,” said Dikkers. “We just searched low.”
One long-time writer Carol apparently had a toilet paper museum within her house, featuring toilet paper from all over the world that she not only collected herself, but also had other people send her from their travels. Another, Cal, hated greeting cards and therefore decided to start his own more unique line. One birthday card stated simply “Happy Birthday” on the front while on the inside, it read, “from me and Dean,” and had a driver’s license taped inside which had previously belonged to some guy named Dean before Cal had found it on the street. A lawyer named Ken turned up with the intention to sue them one day and ended up becoming their pro bono counsel, making any and all problems disappear.
Dikkers seemed to take pride in the amount of controversy and outrage that The Onion had managed to stir up in the past. The Onion once even received a cease and desist letter from George W. Bush. They, characteristically, did not cease and desist, instead sending a copy of the letter to the New York Times for them to do a serious story on how the president was going after comedy publications. They framed the original letter in their offices.
For all his claims at the beginning of how he didn’t have much advice to give on forming businesses or being a journalist, Dikkers did offer five pieces of guidance to end his speech.
- Live your mission
- Invest your passion, not your money
- Be prepared to scrap everything
- Don’t be a boss you would hate
- Work right- the recipe to your success is out there, you just have to follow it
Overall, Dikkers gave an incredibly engaging, hysterical and yet, still useful and inspiring performance. He left the audience laughing and smiling, but also with something to think about on the way out.