By Jose Castillo, news staff
Chatter filled Blackman Auditorium on Tuesday as anxious students filed into seats and waited to hear from the founder of the satirical news publication “The Onion.” At the event, hosted by the Council of University Programs (CUP), Scott Dikkers discussed the history of the website, concentrating on his early years and The Onion’s first days.
“I don’t even know if I should take this presentation seriously,” Monica Kesler, a second-year chemical engineering major who has been reading Onion articles since the eighth grade, said before the program began. “This man is probably going to be full of satire. I’m hoping he is really funny.”
Cheers exploded from the audience of approximately 200 as Dikkers took the stage. He was not hesitant to speak in the provocative voice for which The Onion is well known.
“Great to be here in lovely Boston, birthplace of freedom for white, landowning men,” he said, producing laughter from the audience.
Dikkers, who described himself as “Rupert Murdoch, but with a lot less money and little prestige and no power,” started the night from the very beginning, talking about his birth into a stern Baptist family and his childhood in Wisconsin.
Dikkers revealed that he had been very disgruntled as a child and tried to commit suicide at the age of 8 by locking himself in his room and holding his breath. He credited his adolescent troubles as the driving force behind his humor. They, along with his love for MAD Magazine, inspired him to pursue a career in comedy.
“I had hit upon this coping mechanism: humor, a wonderful strategy for living. So, I determined when I was still in high school that somehow I was going to make a living doing comedy,” Dikkers said.
His first break came when he won a statewide journalism contest for a comic strip he produced for his high school paper. After high school, Dikkers took on a job at McDonald’s as he continued to pursue his dream of becominga comic strip artist – to little success.
However, the Daily Cardinal, the school paper for the University of Wisconsin – Madison, took notice of Dikkers’ work and asked him to draw for the paper. Dikkers’ strip, called “Jim’s Journal,” gained traction at the college and throughout Madison. The strips were eventually compiled into a best-selling book, which helped Dikkers gain the notoriety that helped him start The Onion.
“So I’m the kingship of comedy in Madison with my super-successful comic strip and my best-selling book,” Dikkers said. “So it wasn’t really that odd when I was approached by two enterprising young students named Tim and Chris who wanted to start a campus humor newspaper.”
Dikkers bought out The Onion from his business partners for $3,000 in 1989. Dikkers then began to staff the newspaper, and explained that he found the best writers were typically a bit unusual.
The Onion’s popularity escalated as it was one of the first publications to embrace the then–fledgling World Wide Web.
“So at that point, something called the Internet came along, and we were already putting out all this material for The Onion every week, so we decided, well let’s just register theonion.com and put all the material online, and we unwittingly become the world’s first humor website.”
Students enjoyed learning the history of The Onion’s creation, which many of them had never heard before.
“Satire makes you take a closer look at how hilarious serious things actually are,” Joiya Sousa, a sophomore chemical engineering major,said.
Noah McClanan, lectures chair for CUP and senior political science major, was pleased with the event.
“I think he was a great person to talk about entrepreneurial perspective and journalism, and he was able to bring in some humor and do a good show,” he said.
Photo by Brian Bae