A line wrapped around Stamp: starting near Adele’s, past the art gallery, around the corner, and all the way to the entrance of the Grand Ballroom. Those in the front of the line had backpacks and takeout boxes and those in the back feared they wouldn’t be allowed in.
“Tickets don’t guarantee entry,” one frustrated student said from the back of the line. “Why bother giving them out?”
No, it’s not another free t-shirt giveaway. You read that headline right: the Onion actually was at Maryland.
Dan McGraw, senior writer and member of the Onion editorial staff, and Jermaine Affonso, editor of Onion spinoff Clickhole, spoke in the Grand Ballroom of Stamp on Thursday, Oct 15, regaling the audience with the inner workings of the site.
“There’s enough room for anyone to do anything on the internet,” Affonso said during the lecture. “There’s enough room for everyone to play in the sandbox.”
The audience learned a lot, from the centuries (26 years) of history behind the Onion to the behind-the-scene graphic reenactments the institution does (Affonso has posed as Obama more than once) . In one week, about 1,500 headlines pass through the Onion office doors and only ones with the best potential turn into a full-fledged story.
The event, planned by Student Entertainment Events, or SEE, has been in the works for a bit. Allison Thompson, SEE’s lecture director, brainstormed possible lecture ideas last year and, in a poll taken at last year’s Art Attack, An Evening with The Onion came out on top. The popular satirical news source was also a personal favorite of the broadcast journalism major and technology entrepreneurship minor.
“I was very excited to see that everyone wanted to see the same thing I did, I guess,” she said.
The Facebook event garnered more than 1,700 people who said they were going to attend. As the week began, SEE Program Coordinator Laura McGrath predicted about 400 people would attain a ticket and attend the event; 353 students showed up.
Taking a page from the Onion itself, SEE originally announced that it was going to pool its annual budget together to free rapper Bobby Smurda from jail and have him perform at Art Attack in the spring. They posted an article to their website and it spread across campus.
“So many people were trying to read the article that our website crashed,” Thompson said. “We started getting messages on Facebook like, ‘Is this real?’”
And the response to a satire workshop run by McGraw and Affonso was outstanding. Once the Onion suggested it, Thompson was in charge of planning this too.
“I guess the capacity we were looking for was about 30 and in the first day we got 62 applications,” she said. “We kind of realized this would be really popular and didn’t need an entire week for people to fill out applications, so we closed the very next day.” (Much to my dismay.)
For an organization known for pushing the envelope, I’d have to say McGraw and Affonso were a bit of a disappointment. There were raucous laughs, of course, but they were mostly generated by a slideshow of Onion headlines, including one of Affonso’s rejected favorite: “Booty call came from inside house.” But they weren’t as funny as I thought they were going to be, and by the steady trickle of audience members leaving throughout the lecture, I think it’s safe to assume they did too.
However, after their planned speech, Affonso and McGrath opened the floor for a question and answer portion of the night. Naturally, it fielded such questions as “If you were being attacked by an elephant with swords for tusks, how you would react?” and “What’s your sandwich?” And that’s where McGrath and Affonso’s personalities really shined. (McGrath really likes sandwiches.)
And that, as any reader of the Onion can figure out, is the charm in the site. It provides personality and humor on tough topics and reminds us we are all members of society together.
“The world just seems to be…a serious place,” Thompson said. “I feel like sometimes we all just need to take a look at what we’re doing and just kind of sit back and see why we are doing this. I think that satire is a good way to point things out like problems within our politics or pop culture or those sorts of things.”