After almost two hours of granting us a lot of laughter and some life wisdom, Scott Dikkers continued to stand on stage. Those interested could go up to personally meet him and get a photo. As the line rapidly grew longer, I approached my friend Maria Rudorf to ask if she would like to wait in line with me. Unfortunately, she didn’t have the time. What she did have, though, was an unasked question:
“Have you ever encountered a problem that couldn’t be solved by comedy?”
I found the question so interesting that I ended up asking Mr. Dikkers when it was my turn to take a photo with him. His answer was,
…And here I must avoid quoting because my memory is imperfect, but he mentioned something about humor being an inherent nature of humans and of life, that we are essentially ‘neanderthals’ without humor, and that everything is communicable and solvable with it.
That simple answer only increased my respect for him. I came to the lecture that night never having read the Onion. My only experience with satirical news was really just The Freudian Slip. Living abroad had taught me how to laugh even when I had no idea what was going on, and I suppose I grew to become overdependent on that. Satire is a little more complex than my usual sources for laughter.
Yet at the same time, I’m not wholly a stranger to satire – at least maybe not consciously. Dikkers talked again and again of how humor helps us through the miseries of life. The best satire writers, he found, were the ones society would deem unsuccessful. They were experts at flipping the finger at fate’s faults and laughing despite undesirable circumstances.
While I can hardly call myself satirical, I do remember occasions when humor turned tragedies strangely manageable. During the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, I had gone to school several streets away from the bombed site. School ended early, and we all had to walk under the looming helicopters to a safer place. Amidst the dire situation, my Palestinian friend laughed at it all and told me not to worry because as long as I am with her, I will be safe. After all, bombings failed to kill her for 16 years.
Be it oppressing poverty or never-ending wars, satire reminds us again and again of the ridiculousness of human problems. It tells us that we can be greater than that; in fact, we can laugh at it. It is not only a means of finding peace in the mind but also a challenge to the accepted reality. When asked about his opinion on political correctness and comedy, Dikkers answered that he couldn’t really relate to certain comedians’ claim that PC restricted comedy. To him, making fun of an oppressed group of society is completely unnecessary. Satire should, instead, be a message for the oppressed against the oppressor. It would be his greatest success if he could pass on this message through his books and articles, and that people will continue to use humor to shed light on the illusion we live under.
It’s been a week since his talk, and I still have his voice in the back of my head, telling me that creativity liberates. I hope you’ll find the thought as memorable as I did.
Scott Dikkers, the founding editor of the Onion, visited Clark University on October 19th as a speaker for a Clark Speaker’s Forum-sponsored event. As the owner and longest serving editor-in-chief of the world’s first humor website, Dikkers shared with Clarkies his story and some lessons he picked up along the way. You can read the Scarlet’s cover of the event here and check out his website here.
Before my first post ends, I’d also like to share with you the five ‘creative principles’ he shared with us that night:
1) Live your mission.
2) Invest your passion, not your money.
3) Be prepared to scrap everything.
4) Trust your people. Give them as much freedom as you can.
5) Don’t work hard. Don’t work smart. Work right.
Thanks for reading!