CHICAGO — Writers for the satirical website The Onion tried unsuccessfully to find something funny about the death of former South African president Nelson Mandela. Observers say it is the first time the organization has failed to find humor in a notable death.
When the news broke that the 95-year-old Nobel Peace Prize recipient had passed away, Onion head writer Cole Bolton called an emergency meeting with three writers and a graphic designer.
“Come on people, think,” Bolton said on Thursday around midnight, after hours of fruitless brainstorming. “This is big, big news. In just a few hours our website is going to be on fire with folks desperate for our unique spin on Mandela’s demise.”
The graphic designer jolted back awake.
“People, wake up,” Bolton said. “Think funny. Think ironic. Think name play. Nelson Mandela. Melson Nandela. Mel Gibson.”
“How about we put a photo of Mel Gibson next to the headline ‘Mandela dies at 95,’” said writer number one.
Colson shook his head.
“How about the same thing, but with a photo of Morgan Freeman?” said writer number two.
Colson shook his head.
“We could play with the fact no one really saw him for a few months,” said number one. “Like, maybe he died in January.”
Colton poured hot coffee for the group, spilling some on writer number three, the youngest but funniest of the group. She didn’t budge.
During the next hour, the group painfully assembled a list of potential headlines. One by one they crossed the ideas off.
Around four in the morning, the group settled on the headline “Nelson Mandela becomes first politician to be missed.”
“It is what it is,” Bolton said, telling the youngest writer she needed to remain in the office to write the article. The two others writers and the graphic designer, who had been sleeping on the floor, sneaked away.
“It’s sort of funny, right?” Bolton said. The young writer shook her head and began typing on her laptop.
Writers from other news satire organizations are reporting similar problems in finding humor in the death of one of the world’s most respected people.
“Oh, bollocks,” tweeted Neil Rafferty, a writer at The Daily Mash, a popular British news satire website. “I give up. Let’s just write a real article for once.”