Unlike the ways news happens all at once, the headlines series just came together gradually, but then just took off. It grew out of the fact I was always reading headlines on Yahoo's main page and following them with a snarky comment, but only in my head. You can't help it. Mark Twain was supposed to have said, "The difference between truth and fiction is fiction has to make sense," but sometimes the news just made too much sense to be believed. There's so much irony out there, how can you not comment on it? I certainly couldn't.
I had fairly rigid rules about not changing the headlines themselves. Everything you read before the ellipsis points was as it appeared on the web page I pasted it from. I see opportunities to alter these from time to time (and friends and my dad send me ones they've changed as well), but I won't use anything except the real ones. It's not just cheating; it spoils the joke if I can't spin something off the real thing. I mean, that *is* the joke.
The annoying thing about being honest is that it meant getting legitimate headlines. I pulled the majority of these from Yahoo's main page (which was usually a source of five an hour... or however often they refreshed the feed), but since I wasn't always by a computer 24/7, I would often supplement the crop by hitting Reuters' news page. The hard part was when I was traveling. If I was en route or out of town, I was away from a computer for much of the day, so I would bypass Yahoo's main page and go to their news page, which tended to have a backlog from the previous three or four days and pulling from several sources (e.g. Reuters, USAToday, NYTimes, etc.; however, they changed the format a bit the last time I checked though the sources are all still there, just parsed). Still, that's just something extra to try and keep up with when I was on vacation from everything else.
I also used to avoid altering the sequence of the headlines from the order in which I found them, at least for a while. Eventually I started doing that from time to time if the jokes were too similar in phrasing or the headlines related to the same on-going story. I figured it was pointless to preserve an almost arbitrary order since I was usually pulling headlines from several sources, and they weren't in synch with one another by the time I posted them anyway.
Right before I ended the series, I finally took an actual count of how many headlines I read for each that I wrote a punchline for, and it was about six or seven legitimate ones for each I could use. That was probably a better day than average (Actually, that was the average of three days' worth). In the beginning, I used to pull from more sources and come up with fewer punchlines. Later I got better at filtering the difficult ones.
Some culling strategies:
In fact, if I didn't immediately grasp a headline, then it won't have a good punchline. I found that if I had to re-read a headline, then it was that much harder to come up with something funny because of its complexity and/or obscurity. For example, reports on esoteric measures of economic growth are inherently unfunny. The best I could hope for with those is wordplay.
- You can't make death funny. If the headline has the word "dead" or "killed" in it, 99% of the time, I couldn't work with it, and before long, I just quit trying. The only exception to this were celebrity deaths, and even then it depends largely on the subject in question.
- Similarly, anything involving AIDS, cancer, or almost any other disease is out as well. Except stuttering. One of the best ones I ever wrote was about stuttering, especially since it was really offensive.
- Sports is rarely funny. Maybe it's because I don't pay attention to sports in general, but in three years of doing this, I don't think I did more than two or three sports-related headlines that weren't about specific athletes/celebs.
Over time I found several strategies that worked and I could cycle through. This is by no means a complete list, but some of techniques I drew from included:
By the end, I tended to write about 95% of the headlines on that first pass through them. It used to be that I'd make a second pass through to change the wording of a few of them and to write punchlines for a few headlines that had potential that I didn't find anything for last time. I used to agonize over the process, but by the end, I really didn't care. They might have been better, but only about 10% better. The second pass was less about inspiration and more about refining punchlines, and I was more interested in writing other things to waste time on that. Sorry about the spelling and other typos I'm sure must have slipped through.
- Name dropping. For example, if it was a fat joke, Kirsti Alley or Star Jones were fair game. Anything that implied pedophilia or any number of other freakish behaviors was automatically a Michael Jackson reference. (Conversely, a Bush headline almost automatically indicted his stupidity and/or lack of credibility.)
- Storytelling. It was fun to continue the headline as a complete sentence wherein I abandon reality on my side of the ellipses points and invent a more interesting story.
- Invented quotes. I moved away from this early on, but I used to have fun eliciting fictional comments from bystanders or persons who might be connected to the story (e.g., a spouse, co-worker, etc.).
- Intentional misreading. I'd look for puns and have the punchline read the opposite meaning as the headline intended.
- Rearrangement. Sometimes I'd scramble the words in the headline to give the opposite meaning which (hopefully) held an ironic mirror to the actual news.
- "Related story." Again, I'd invent a news item to comment on the repercussions of the original news.
- And so on. I'm sure there are more categories, but I didn't have a palette that I went to when I sat down with the news. I tended to simply write whatever popped into my head, hopefully on the first reading. If I knew there was something there that I wasn't getting to, I'd mark it for later and revisit it after the first pass through.
The goal behind it all was two-fold: It had to be funny, but I also wanted to make a statement. To me, the idea headline/punchline combination was something that got a laugh, but it also commented on the news directly, not just making a pun or something equally base. For example, early on I wrote my all-time favorite (one that literally had a friend spit her food out when I told her about it):Senate passes legislation on Schiavo caseThis was back when Jeb Bush was pushing legislation to keep the brainless vegetable alive. I thought that not only was the punchline great, it also said plainly what most in their right minds were thinking: This was a load of crap.
...with help from laxatives and high fiber diet
Of course, one of the most tedious things about posting the headlines was the fact that (in theory anyway) they were a time-sensitive property. Whereas most things I post have been sitting around for literally months (at least from their genesis; much re-writing occurs in between), the headlines were written within a few days at most, seldom as long as a week, and almost never longer. Unfortunately, I fell behind in posting them a lot of the time, even when I had a backlog of material written. I got in the habit of posting two days of news at a time to play catch-up. It seemed like a reasonable amount; my dad said it was too much when I tried three and four days in one bolus.
The rule I usually stuck to was a minimum of five headlines a day. However, if I came up with ten or more from one day's headlines, I just posted that bunch on its own, so that meant I almost always had a backlog. Posting two days worth at a time, five times a week, was technically ten days' worth of news per seven day week, but somehow I always ended up not getting around to posting them on time. After doing it for three years and a few months, the only New Years resolution I kept was to end the series and concentrate on other projects (written and otherwise) I hadn't gotten around to in all this time.
Good night and good luck.-the NationALEXaminer.
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