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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 SPARKNOTES

Do:

Don’t:


The Writing Process

Have a read through existing stories before pitching to get an idea of the tone, structure and style that is common to stories on The Chaser. Other good sites to reference are The Onion, The Shovel, Betoota Advocate, Waterford Whispers and The Beaverton.

Other than that 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 the headline needs to draw a reader in, because that’s all they’re going to see scrolling through their newsfeeds.

Our house rule since the 90s 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.

That being said, if the idea can’t be fleshed out further than a headline, we do sometimes just have to drop a story and move on. Some days we’ll be publishing an article every half hour, so ten minutes spent labouring over trying to come up with a second gag for the body text might just not be an economical use of our time. Generally at the end of the week we’ll have 10-20 great headlines sitting in draft that just never saw the light of day because they were either too hard to flesh out, too similar to another story, we couldn’t get the headline wording quite right, or we just couldn’t get a good enough image.

2. 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 only pick up the standout pitches, so if your pitch doesn’t get picked up, don’t let that get you down, and by all means try again. There’s a bunch of reasons a pitch might not get picked up, and trust us it’s nothing personal (in fact we will quite often read through pitches without checking who sent them to make sure there’s no bias involved). On a related note, unfortunately we can’t realistically sit down and write feedback on every pitch that comes in, we’re only a small team and doing so would eat into the limited time we have to publish, edit, and lay up stories.

“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

If your headline is picked up we might ask you to write body copy. Just keep in mind, 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 joke 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.

Try not to spend too long on the body copy, it’s much better to get an okay-written story out while everyone’s still talking about it than to be five hours late to the party with something that’s a work of art, and if we’re being completely honest, almost nobody reads the body copy anyway.

If you’re asked to write the body copy on a story:

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 we can’t easily make out the punchlines, then we might need you to go back to the drawingboard.

Also if you send us stories based around puns or wordplay unfortunately we won’t be running it. This style of humour has its place, but the Chaser isn’t it. Keep your pitches limited to satirical news parody, and same goes for body copy.

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.

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 fourish words: Self-important, intelligent, irreverent, and left-leaning centrist. Our main mission though is pointing out hypocrisy. For quite a while we simply ran with “Statement” says person who holds similar but conflicting view (eg. “Marriage can’t change”, says Church founded to change definition of marriage), but we’ve moved away from it being our trademark style. Still, it’s a good way to write an easy headline that points a finger at obvious hypocrisy so feel free to use it as a template starting out.

Unlike Clickhole the Chaser generally doesn’t do absurdism unless it’s been a particularly dark news cycle and we feel like people need a bit of light relief, and edgy humour has probably passed its moment in the sun, so pitch those type of headlines sparingly.

“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 robot

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

Hyperbole, juxtaposition, lampoon, irony, 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 can always aim for 5-6 paragraphs if you’re not confident in the gags.

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 (The Chaser)

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

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