Scott Dikkers may be the man who started the first humor website in the world, TheOnion.com, but VALLEY learned it wasn’t always smooth sailing for him. In fact, he credits his hardships as to why he can create humorous content about pretty much anything.
Dikkers started off his career by making comic strips for any paper that would have him. First for no pay, then eventually for $5 a week. It wasn’t until he was in college that The Onion was born.
What started out as a campus humor publication would grow into so much more in the next decade. The the only reason Dikkers volunteered to be editor in the first place was to help out his friends who were working themselves to the bone over the publication.
The friends offered The Onion to him for $3,000. He scraped up what money he had and started spending all of his time trying to fill the pages of the satirical newspaper.
So how did Dikkers find the writers for this operation? They were dropouts, shut-ins, dishwashers … anyone who was “bitter and hateful,” he says. He needed people that were beyond grateful for the opportunity to write for The Onion. “And the more freedom I gave the writers, the more creative they got,” he emphasizes.
He describes The Onion in those days as “madness.” Taco Bell and even the governor of Wisconsin tried to sue the paper for articles that featured them in embarrassing ways. The most comical part of the law suits by far though is that The Onion eventually had pro bono legal counsel from the guy that wanted to sue the publication in the first place!
Even with lawyers breathing down his back, no subject was off limits to Dikkers and his team. He stresses that humor and satire serve as a great function in society today. “Humor is the greatest defense mechanism,” says Dikkers. He points out that “when something bad happens, people need to laugh again. The target just has to be right.”
Eventually, Dikkers wanted to legitimize The Onion to what it is today. He started actually giving the writers a salary and benefits, but that meant he was barely making a profit anymore. He was homeless, moving from couch to couch, but he says, “I was doing what I loved.”
Today, many of the “bitter and hateful” writers that had their start at The Onion are successful writers in Hollywood. Likewise, Dikkers is couchsurfing no more, and he gave Penn State students the keys to reaching their own point of success.
- Live your mission.
- Invest your time, not money.
- Be prepared to scrap everything.
- Trust your people—people will surprise you.
- Work right—see how people succeed in the field that you want to succeed in too.