Find humor in the war in Ukraine? It’s (always) the way of the onion | New York News

By DAVID BAUDER, AP Media Writer

NEW YORK (AP) — Like any effective satire, The Onion’s headline had a ring of truth: “Putin Satisfied With Plot To Ruin Russian Economy, Destroying International Position Goes Exactly As Planned.”

A month after Russia invaded Ukraine, the comedy website was willing to go, seek humor in the hottest stories, even as they unfold. . The satirical site identified Russian President Vladimir Putin’s university major as ‘aggression’, showed a resort in Ukraine ‘with extremely affordable rates at the moment’ and said the United Nations was stepping up its response to the invasion of “warnings” to “severe warnings”. .”

“Finding comedy in the Ukrainian situation serves several functions,” says Chad Nackers, editor of The Onion. “It is a powerful tool for exposing madness, absurdity and human cruelty, as well as for breaking free from a stressful situation and an endless cycle of misery.

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“Laughter,” he says, “can fill the void created by a sense of hopelessness.”

The war has not been ignored elsewhere in comedy. Late-night television has used Ukraine for familiar or tangential punch lines – Tucker Carlson, Donald Trump or the quality of Papa John’s pizza. Stephen Colbert suggested the United States add a T-shirt cannon to the weapons they send to Ukraine. After President Joe Biden called Putin a war criminal, Jimmy Kimmel suggested the “dumb head” was next.

True to the nature of the onion as a brand that originated in the Midwest (Madison, Wisconsin) in 1988, there’s a touch of cuteness in its Ukrainian humor. None of his sarcasm touches the human victims of war.

His list of potential war outcomes ranged from “a lot of very bad historical speculative fiction” to “the Mets win the World Series”. A map of Ukraine identifies the “only decent place for tacos in the whole fucking country.”

A fake slideshow about Putin’s rise to power shows a pregnant woman with the caption: ‘Putin’s parents decide to try to be an evil megalomaniac’. Beneath another photo of a tombstone, the caption reads, “Opponent of student council treasurer position suffers from mysterious organ failure.”

The Onion’s decision not to ignore a thorny subject recalls one of its most defining moments, when its issue printed two weeks after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks helped break the comedy barrier, says Sophia McClennen , a professor at Penn State University and author of the upcoming book, “Trump Was a Joke: How Satire Made Sense of a President Who Didn’t.”

The cover of this issue featured President George W. Bush under the headline, “America Pledges to Defeat Whoever We Are at War With.”

Those were more influential days at The Onion, which ceased printing editions in 2013 and now exists as a website with traffic directed through social media posts. There’s a lot more competition online now and in late-night TV comedies, which have become more satirical in the aftermath of Jon Stewart and “The Daily Show,” says Robert Thompson, director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture in Syracuse. University.

There’s a rich history of satirical publications like Mad magazine and National Lampoon – places where the news of the day collides with the potential for laughter that can lessen its heaviness. Spy magazine burned brightly and briefly in the 1980s. Private Eye and Punch were popular English magazines. Notably, the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo was the target of a terrorist attack in 2015.

The onion sometimes just seems entertaining instead of satirical, says James Caron, author of “Satire as the Comic Public Sphere.”

“It’s just a little silly sometimes,” says Caron.

Yet he still has the ability to hit a target squarely. Following several mass shootings in the United States over the past decade, the Onion repeated essentially the same article, changing only a few details, under the heading “‘No way to prevent this,’ says the only nation where this happens regularly.”

“It’s just this endless horror loop,” Nackers says. The way Onion matched the repetitiveness with his stories “really touched a nerve with people. He hit it in a respectful way. It feels like there’s a really strong argument in course, but … it does not look like you ‘exploit people.

The Onion, now based in Chicago, has a team of 20 people. He went through a handful of corporate overseers. Current owner Great Hill Partners bought the onion from communications company Univision in 2019.

Nackers started in 1997 as a photographer, earning $10 per photo. He started cracking jokes, became a writer, and now runs the place. He saw the satire become more serious after 9/11, as global madness “sort of caught up with what were once insane satirical premises”. The emphasis tends to oscillate between dark humor and the more frivolous as dictated by the times.

“One thing that we can kind of do, because we have a lot of editorial freedom, is we’re basically truth tellers,” Nackers says. “We kind of go to the heart of things and expose the real truth using satire, cracking a joke, but showing it as it really is.

Over the past month, the Onion has been doing a “fact-checking” simulation on Ukraine. To the statement that Russia claimed Ukraine harbored bioweapons, the Onion said that “fabricating claims about enemies holding bioweapons is America’s job.”

“CLAIM: Rudy Giuliani is a valuable Russian asset acting against Ukraine in the service of the Kremlin,” wrote The Onion. “REALITY: Rudy Giuliani has not been of value to anyone for years. »

Sometimes someone will think some of the Onion’s “fake news” is actually true, like when a Chinese newspaper reprinted its claim of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un as the sexiest man alive. year – by adding its own slideshow. When these things happen, “it’s a fun day at the office,” says senior editor Jordan LaFlure.

“The onion story is how little we’ve changed,” LaFlure said. “We have a voice that endures in changing political climates. It’s just a matter of deciding which is the best arrow in our quiver to shoot at a particular target.

David Bauder is the Associated Press’ media editor. Follow him on Twitter at

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