"The Onion" Contributors

"The Onion" Contributors

Mike & Jilly

Toronto , ON

Male, 27

Michael MacDonald and Jilly Gagnon edit and write for Canada's Pre-Eminent News Source, The Smew (smew.com), a Canadian satirical website. Michael contributes weekly to The Onion while Jilly contributes to McSweeney's. Of course we work other jobs to actually make rent.

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19 Questions


Last Answer on May 17, 2012

Best Rated

Did you submit any headlines that you were particularly proud of that didn't get accepted?

Asked by Onionz over 9 years ago

Mike: Sure. If I wasn't confident about a headline or a joke, I wouldn't submit it. But given that there are so many talented writers who contribute, it's to be expected that most of the material sent in doesn't get published. Jilly: All the TIME. That's why we have The Smew. Now WE DECIDE, MOTHERFU**ERS!!! (Sorry - after a few hundred rejections of what you thought was your best work, your mind starts to go...)

Do you have a favorite Onion headline of all time?

Asked by Danny over 9 years ago

Michael: "Super Monkey Collider Loses Funding". Frankly, anything to do with monkeys is always hilarious! Jilly: "Studies Show Babies Are Stupid". It was super simple, but just nailed it.

Who are some of the writers (whether satirists, bloggers, novelists, etc) from whom you draw influence?

Asked by Neva over 9 years ago

Mike: Paul Houseman, Jilly Gagnon, David Blanton, and Joe Garden have inspired and influenced me greatly in the past few years. Growing up, I really enjoyed reading the works of John Kennedy Toole, David Sedaris, David Cross, et al. Jilly: I think as a writer it's really hard to distinguish your likes from your real influences. As far as writers I really, really like, Evelyn Waugh, P.G. Wodehouse, Thurber, Nancy Mitford, and Robert Benchley. More modern humorist favorites include Andy Borowitz, Paul Rudnick, Simon Rich, and (of course) Tina Fey .

Do you have a specific method for writing satirical news or do you just hear about a story and try to point out what's weird about it?

Asked by WillyG over 9 years ago

Jilly: It really varies - you'll notice that most satirical websites have several "evergreen" headlines, i.e. headlines that don't relate to any specific, current news event (on The Smew, for example, we just ran a piece "Bret Easton Ellis pens 'Canadian Psycho'"). For more topical pieces, we often pitch a few headlines back and forth to one another, each of them dealing with a slightly different aspect or angle of the news story, to see what makes us laugh hardest. Mike: What Jilly said... Also, lampooning weird or silly news generally doesn't work well because your job has already been done for you.

What do you think are the best written shows currently on TV?

Asked by Mahran over 9 years ago

Jilly: 30 rock, absolutely. I really like Portlandia as well, and Archer. Like every other comedy writer ever, I also desperately miss arrested development. Mike: With regards to comedy, The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret is pretty great as is Peep Show (are both of those still on the air? Probably not, but they both are highly underrated and super hilarious. I'd recommend everyone and anyone to check both of those two shows out). As non comedy, I tend to like Breaking Bad and sometimes I'll sneak in an episode or two of Top Gear.

Is there something unique about the Canadian sense of humor or writing for a Canadian audience? Do you have to tailor your writing differently for The Smew vs. The Onion vs. McSweeney's?

Asked by superfan99 over 9 years ago

Jilly: Honestly, I don't think there's a huge difference in the Canadian sense of humour versus the American, barring certain cultural differences that influence what sorts of things you "go after" with your jokes. Writing for The Smew and The Onion, it's really important to maintain the "news" feel in a piece, even if your jokes are off-the-wall. With McSweeney's, you have a ton more freedom with form (which can be very difficult). I'd say the audience for all three outlets is a generally intelligent, youngish, informed crowd, so you try to aim your jokes with that group in mind.

You mention that you work "other jobs" to make the rent. Are these writing-oriented jobs, or totally disparate day jobs? What I really want to know is, what's makes a good "day job" for a writer?

Asked by die9to5 over 9 years ago

Mike: I work as a news editor and writer for a chain of Canadian newspapers and websites. While it doesn’t necessarily strengthen my creative writing skills as such, it does provide me with a good sense of the news cycle, which in turn helps me to generate satirical news stories. Jilly: Both of us work day-in, day-out for The Smew, but the "rent payer," for me, is a non-writing job. I think that the good "day job" really varies from person to person - some people do better with a day job that is writing-based; I do something completely different so that at the end of the day I don't feel like all my creativity for the day has already been used up. I'd try to find out whether a demanding job revs you up, and leaves you excited to do more, or just drains you, and choose accordingly!

How do you know if you're "funny"?

Asked by Janice381 over 9 years ago

Jilly: A lot of the time it's really hard to know when you're funny - that's why it's super important to have a group of other funny people who you trust to read over your material. That said, a good litmus test is going back to your material after a short break - if it makes you laugh out loud, you've got something right - you spend so much time labouring over "just the right joke" that it's hard to know for certain whether you've actually found it.

How did you get selected to write for The Onion? Any tips for those of us trying to do the same?

Asked by BarneyB over 9 years ago

Mike: After writing a dissertation on the political relevance of satirical news, I applied for an editorial internship at the company. Upon completion of the internship, I started to submit headlines each week. Jilly: Certain outlets want to hear from you, and you have to beat down their doors. Others, like The Onion, don't have an open submissions policy. Harassing them is just going to annoy.

Was there ever an Onion article that you thought went too far? As in, it really stepped over the line in terms of taste/decency?

Asked by Gambit1 over 9 years ago

Jilly: Quite honestly, it's hard to offend comedy writers - you look at things not as what offends you, more as what might offend more people than it's worth for the joke. That said, I think the Onion has always been careful to push the envelope without just going for the shock-effect. I think their response to the 9/11 attacks is a perfect example of that.

Who are some of the more famous Onion alumni?

Asked by PaulBB over 9 years ago

Mike: Famous Onion alumni, eh? I'm not too sure to be honest.

Are the writing staff members at The Onion super-competitive with one another, or is it more team-oriented/collaborative?

Asked by Christine over 9 years ago

Mike: I started out by just writing headlines. Given that they sort through hundreds of headlines each week and only pick a few, it’s not easy getting your jokes in the paper. As for staff writers being competitive, I really can’t say seeing as though I write all of my material (Canadian Voices and sometimes National News Highlights) from the confines of my bedroom.

Given the success of The Onion, The Daily Show, and Colbert Report, do you think satirical news is going to continue to grow and usurp more traditional news outlets as people's primary place to watch the news?

Asked by Howiezowie over 9 years ago

Mike: This question makes me want to run off to the library and put together a proper response. But basically, yes. Jilly: Frankly, I think lots of people would be better informed if they turned to satire than some of the traditional outlets currently in operation.

Does The Onion pay well, relative to competitors? Specifics would be appreciated :)

Asked by Silba over 9 years ago

Mike: I don't have too much insight into what a staff member would earn at The Onion. As for contributors like myself, you get paid for what gets published. As for competitors, I'd be hard pressed to list other satirical news outlets that pay, with the exception of The Smew (smew.com) of course.

Have either of you ever written material for a stand-up? Is writing humor for spoken word significantly different than for the written word?

Asked by GK over 9 years ago


Do you think having The Onion move its headquarters in NYC was ultimately a good or bad thing? There's something kind of cool in having something so interesting/irreverent NOT coming from a big city.

Asked by slowride over 9 years ago


I think my brother has a knack for writing Onion-type headlines. Yet the Onion claims not to accept submissions. How would you suggest he go about getting his material in front of an Onion editor?

Asked by Jake over 8 years ago


If the Onion is all about the headlines, why do they even bother writing articles?

Asked by Belle Weather about 9 years ago


Do you think the thing where the Boy Scouts where doing breast exams was a little too far?

Asked by Tj over 1 year ago