I had the privilege to write six headlines for the comedy newspaper The Onion (www.theonion.com) over the course of a year or so spanning Fall 1996-1997. Check out their website for their latest issues, and an archive of older stuff.
Back when Tupac Shakur was killed, I came up with a headline about Notorius B.I.G. declaring war on Windam Hill Records (Biggie's Bad Boy Entertainment had an unspoken war with Death Row Records, Tupac's label. Windam Hill is an easy listening label that Yanni used to record on.). I knew that the Onion didn't accept unsolicited subissions, but I thought this was pretty funny, so I e-mailed the paper to ask what the process was. They got me in touch with the senior editor (Rob Siegel, now editor-in-chief), and he got me started.
He told me to spend a couple days brainstorming headlines, and send a list of twenty or so to him. Off of my first list, they used two ideas, not including the Tupac headline. I brainstormed about a hundred fifty headline ideas over several years, and they used a total of six. Incidentally, to answer a popular question, they paid me $10 per headline, and (last I heard) $40 for a full article, which I never did. Also, Siegel told at the time that I was the youngest person (as of Fall 1996) to have ever submitted to The Onion.
Update! In October 2001, I got in touch with now-senior-editor Carol Kolb to ask what my status was, since I had been sending ideas on and off, with no hits. She told me that because they're trying to tighten up the operation, they no longer take headlines from new, in my case returning, freelancers. So my days of writing headlines for them are finally, officially, over. I had a good run, and (as noted below) I've gotten the chance to purchase a nationally-distributed book and calendar that include things that I wrote, and that's just damn cool.
So below are the headlines I wrote, with the full content that the staff writers put together with them.
Me An' Cletus Is A-Feudin' - This idea came out of a conversation my brother and I improvved once as Cletus and Buford, feuding hillbillies. The headline was on my first list, and is my favorite of the ones they used. The article was first published in the October 9-15, 1996 issue. (Vol. 30, Issue 9)
Araa Kayboard Bustad - A friend of mine sent me an e-mail with the subject line "My kxyboard is bustxd," and kept the e-x substitution going through the whole thing. I turned it into "Arxa Kxyboard Bustxd," and the Onion used it, changing the x to a, which is fun, since it can be read aloud. I gave my friend five of the ten bucks. Originally published in the October 30 - November 5, 1996 issue. (Vol. 30, Issue 12)
They Took My Wookie - I wrote this in the form of a headline announcing Ford's Agreement to star with Wagner in the movie. They used it as a TV listing, which worked better. Peter Mayhew played Chewbacca, and Lindsay Wagner is the frequent star of Lifetime Original Movies. Published in the December 11-17, 1996 issue. (Vol. 30, Issue 18)
Protesters Ignored - Pretty straightforward; I'm almost surprised they used it. This sort of thing is called a skybox, and the ones in the Onion never have an article to go with them. (Was later published in Dispatches from the Tenth Circle, the second "Best of The Onion" book, on page 19, and on the February page of the "Dispatches..." 2002 Calendar.) Appeared on the cover of the February 12-18, 1997 issue. (Vol. 31, Issue 5)
Kitty! - I thought an op-ed written by a 5-year-old about a kitty would be funny. They took it in a really dark direction. February 19-25, 1997. (Vol. 31, Issue 6)
Letter D Pulls Sponsorship from Sesame Street - The gay Muppet angle was their addition. This article seems to have made the most impact. It's been reprinted several times, made the cut to get into their online archive, and they've used Mike Loew's graphic of Roger in Onion ads. Also, this article was published in Dispatches from the Tenth Circle, on page 87. Incidentally, it was also cited by someone at Star Wars Insider magazine as one of their favorite Onion articles. I'm as proud as proud can be. Orignally published in the December 10-16, 1997 issue. (Vol. 32, Issue 16)
These articles are © 1996, 1997, Onion, Inc. All rights reserved. I've reproduced them here only with their permission.
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Frederick Beukema Last modified: Sun Dec 26 14:10:09 CST 1999