Writer’s Guide

How to write for the Chaser
Just so you know, while we love finding new writers, writing for The Chaser is first and foremost a labour of love. We all wrote for free for years, and our budget is still limited, so probably don’t expect to get rich writing headlines.

Also bear in mind that senses of humour are subjective. We often disagree violently amongst ourselves about whether an idea is funny, so please don’t be offended if we decide not to use an idea that you think is hilarious. Material included in The Chaser has to conform to the majority of the editors senses of humour – it’s the same rule we apply to ourselves.

In style terms, make your story read as much like a real news article as you can, even if its very silly.

Short is good, and try to end each para with a punchline.

The headline is crucial, and should be funny in its own right. We generally spend as much time on headlines as on the actual text of articles. And we usually get new writers to pitch headlines rather than completed articles, so we can suggest which ones we think are goers because they nail a particular satirical point (the angle), or are just funny idea, or true observations. Generally, if the headline (ie overall concept) isn’t right, it doesn’t matter how good the gags in the article are.

Anyway, enough lecturing from me, and well done to those brave enough to actually pitch something.

– Dom


The Writing Process

Here’s a few tips that can help you avoid common pitfalls in the writing process:

1. It’s all in the headline

The world is our audience, but in order to reach people we have to leverage social media. This means that for most people, all they will see of your article is a headline, and that’s what needs to draw a reader in.

Our house rule since the 90’s has been writing should be “50/50” in that loosely 50% of the effort in creating an article should be spent on getting the right headline. In the age of Facebook that’s probably shifted closer to 90/10.

“We’re constantly pushing us to see past the headline. Is it just a funny sentence or is there room to explore and expand this into a 600 word article?”

– Anon. Onion Writer

2. Write, write and write more

In professional comedy writing sometimes 100 good jokes might be pitched before a single one gets bought. We’re a little more forgiving, but we still prefer being pitched bunches of 10 potential headlines that we can pick one or two standouts from.

“A lot of the pitches we reject are great. They just need to be, you know, a lot, lot, lot, lot, lot funnier.”

– Joe Randazzo (The Onion)

3. Keep it simple, keep it short, keep it funny

As ridiculous as the news is these days, we’re not yet a real news organisation. It can help to give some background on a topic, but at the same time don’t go over two sentences of dry content without throwing the readers a bone on the third. Remember this is the internet, people have short attention spans. Our general rule is aim for three sentence paragraphs, the first two explaining, the third comprising the punchline.

Subverting the readers expectation of how the paragraph will end is an easy way to get a laugh, and by writing this way, you can come up with your jokes first, then write backwards from there.

“Nobody speaks honestly. So we’ve got this thing called the elephant. The thing that everyone is thinking about, but that you would never see in an article. Write it as straight news. Write it completely honestly, it becomes funny.”

– Tim Keck (Onion Founder)

4. Your jokes should be obvious to you and us, and especially the audience

It’s an easy thing to do to write something that sounds funny but isn’t actually a joke. But just like we wouldn’t accept a tradie who built something that vaguely looked like a door without actually being one, we’re not looking for writers that only vaguely know how to build a joke. If you can’t go through your article and highlight the punchlines in four words or less, then you might want to go back to the drawingboard.

“The cleaner the voice is, the more the wackiness sticks out.”

– Ganz (The Onion)

5. Write backwards

Come up with the jokes first. It’s much easier to frame a satiric story around some inherent ironies you spotted than it is to try and insert jokes into plain reporting.

“For stories where the writer is totally missing the point, we call these a misplaced focus joke. When the big issue is over there, but you’re fussing about over some little detail over here.”

– Joe Randazzo (The Onion)

6. Know the voice

It’s important you get the voice of the Chaser down before writing your article. While the AP guide is a great startpoint, the Chaser is just as much about what you say as how you say it. You can sum up the Chaser’s voice in threeish words: Self-important, irreverent, and centrist.

Unlike Clickhole the Chaser generally doesn’t do absurdism, and unlike the Backburner the Chaser’s politics cover a much broader church than inner-city leftism. If anything the Chaser’s voice is the Onion with an Australian twang, and a good dose of Murdoch tabloidism to boot.

“I takes a lot to know what headlines are suited for the Onion. We get a lot of headlines that come in that are really funny, but just wouldn’t feel right.”

– Joe Randazzo (The Onion)

7. Write like a machine

If you are struggling to come up with witty one liners, remember the central tenants of satire:

Hyperbole, juxtaposition, lampoon, irony, puns/wordplay, misplaced focus, logical conclusions and illogical deductions

Find examples of these that apply to your topic, and you’re halfway to a finished article already.

It’s also important to remember that a punchline is best when it takes an unexpected turn from where your setup started out. Seinfeld calls this making the audience “make a mental leap” between two ideas.

“Laughter’s often a startled reaction to surprise and danger. Humor is a strange thing.”

– Had Hanson (The Onion)

8. Write too much, let us edit

It’s much better when pitching stories to include way to much and let us cut articles down. We generally run about 3-4 paragraphs on a story, but you should aim for around 5 paragraphs.

Sometimes jokes you thought were hilarious might be cut because they’re just not as funny to a fresh pair of eyes, and sometimes a joke you thought was easy or lame will be what makes an article golden.

We want to get the best out of our comedy writers, and this means editing, re-writes and sometimes taking advice from others. It’s nothing against you but we’d rather make the audience laugh than to keep in a joke that isn’t funny just to stroke a writer’s ego.

“Why are all these quotes from the Onion and not from the Chaser?”

– Charles Firth (probably)

That’s it from us. So now for the most important tip of all: just get fucking writing!

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