Or not. News satirist Scott Dikkers talks about creative inspiration and shares leadership tips with Elon students
By Lily Hamilton
The Onion can’t be trusted with the real news, but they can be trusted to make you laugh.
Scott Dikkers, one of The Onion’s co-founders, jokingly proclaimed the satirical news source to be “the most trusted news service in the world” in a lecture at Elon University Tuesday night before launching into a history lesson on all things The Onion.
He bought the newspaper from fellow University of Wisconsin classmates Tim Keck and Christopher Johnson after working as its editor in the late 1980s, and less than a decade later he launched TheOnion.com.
Dikkers emphasized the monumental effort it takes to excel creatively, and he described the type of person it takes to be a successful comedy writer: unusual people with thought-provoking stories to tell.
The Onion’s original staff was comprised of colorful characters from Dikkers’ community rather than professional writers. “They were smart, they were bitter and they had no prospects in life,” Dikkers quipped affectionately. He sought to hire people who were drawn to hard work.
He has found that the funniest people are the ones with the saddest stories. “Humor is a wonderful coping mechanism for anything life can throw at you,” Dikkers explained. “It’s a defense mechanism.”
Sometimes geniuses are difficult to deal with, but Dikkers said the art they produce is often worth the missed deadlines. “I wanted The Onion to be a safe place for them to do their work,” Dikkers said.
Dikkers’ attitude mirrors that of his offbeat employees. He described the happiest point of his career; ironically, it was at the same time that he was homeless and working until 2 a.m. each night. “I was doing work that was so rewarding and I was finally getting noticed,” Dikkers said of the time period following The Onion’s online success.
“If taking a risk means diving deeper into your mission, do it,” Dikkers urged his audience.
What started as a few friends putting together a college humor magazine became a decades old, globally known entertainment enterprise. Dikkers attributes much of that success to the type of people he aimed to hire: people who do what they want to do without hesitation.
“Trust your people,” he said.