Web Summit: Twitter would have been perfect for Oscar Wilde

Digital platforms have transformed delivery of satire, opening it to all

David Schneider, co-founder of That Lot, speaks during Day 3 of the 2015 Web Summit in the RDS. Photograph: Sportsfile

David Schneider, co-founder of That Lot, speaks during Day 3 of the 2015 Web Summit in the RDS. Photograph: Sportsfile

 

How have digital platforms, from the web to Twitter, changed satire? In a wide-ranging talk on the subject on the Centre Stage of the Web Summit, the president of US satirical website The Onion, Michael McAvoy, and UK comic actor David Schneider, who runs a social media comedy content agency, joined Olly Mann of the Guardian to offer some insights into how the art and business of satire has dramatically changed in recent years.

Twitter, Mr Mann pointed out, has completely altered the speed with which satire occurs - everyone becomes a satirist, in real time, as events occur.

“There is more pressure to be quick,” said Mr McAvoy, “but we do produce timely content. The bigger point is are you commenting on something in a unique enough way that, even if you don’t have the first joke, you have the best joke. Because it’s a collaborative process at The Onion, we get to work on how it’s unique.”

Oscar Wilde would have creamed himself at Twitter, it’s the perfect vehicle for one-liners,” said Mr Schneider.

Monetisation challenge

With its relatively new Clickhole site, The Onion has turned the satirical focus on to the internet itself, “a parody of everything viral and vapid”, particularly websites such as Buzzfeed and UpWorthy.

But The Onion is competing with those sites for advertising - finding ways to monetise satire is part of the process.

“Monetisation is a challenge,” said Mr McAvoy.

“For us it’s always been through advertising, yet The Onion also has this anti-establishment ethos. It’s a delicate balance, so we’ve done a smart job of our sponsored content, making fun with the brand in front of our audience. The right brands understand that to reach people under 35, you need to do something different, and the best way to do something authentic is through comedy. Be in on the joke, don’t take yourself too seriously. If you’re able to be self-aware, you’ll be successful.”