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The Onion's guide to what's unintentionally funny

Why Rita Sever and Go-Gurt make the writers of the fake-news site laugh

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Rita Sever
Sandra Johnson

It’s clear that the writers of the fake-news site the Onion know what’s funny. For proof, check out their second book, ”The Onion’s Finest News Reporting,” a compilation of such darkly uproarious past articles as ”Mother Teresa Sent to Hell in Wacky Afterlife Mix-Up,” ”Blues Singer’s Woman Permitted to Tell Her Side,” and ”Neighbors Remember Serial Killer as Serial Killer.” But EW Online decided to ask them a tougher question: What’s not meant to be funny, but really cracks you up?

Celebrity Interviews ”I love hearing a fine actor on shows like ‘Entertainment Tonight’ talking about the really sh—y movie they’re in and discussing their character’s motivation,” says editor in chief Rob Siegel. ”So you’ll have Michael Keaton discussing ‘Jack Frost’ and saying stuff like, ‘My character’s very conflicted, because he very much wants to connect with his son, but he’s a snowman.’ You have these actors in this really, really crass commercial stuff who you can tell are forced against their will to take it very seriously. Either they’re put up to it by the studio or presumably some of them actually can convince themselves that it’s meaningful work, which is even funnier.”

”Cool” Marketing ”The funniest thing in the world is commercials that try to sell any product on the basis of being ‘cool,”’ says senior editor Carol Kolb. ”It isn’t on the basis of utility anymore, it’s always ‘cool.’ For example, there’s this new product called ‘Go-Gurt,’ which is yogurt to go that comes out of a squeeze tube. And the whole commercial is about if you have to use a spoon to eat your yogurt, it’s not cool. It shows a little kid skateboarding while eating his Go-Gurt, and on the sidelines there’s this sad looking child who’s sitting on a curb, because he can’t have fun because he has to eat his yogurt with a spoon. And he’s just sitting there eating… looking stupid. It’s amazing.”

The ”Sports Collectible” hosts on the Shop at Home Network ”I derive a great deal of amusement from them when I’m up late,” says writer Tim Harrod. ”It’s a home shopping club for guys, and these hosts scream endlessly. They put up a collection of, say, Michael Jordan rookie cards at enormously inflated prices and they scream about how ‘You have to have this, this is the one!’ Every single thing they sell is ‘The one not to miss out on!’ But it’s funny, the show is so predictable and regular that you can use it to lull yourself to sleep, even though they’re screaming. Don West in particular is the master of the hideous, brutal, primal sports-collecting scream. When you watch it, you just hope the guy doesn’t have any kids that he gets mad at and screams at in that voice.”

Rita Sever, host of NBC’s ”Friday Night’ ”Here’s why she’s so funny,” says head writer Todd Hanson: ”You know how there are hosts on TV who are sort of facile and superficial and don’t really have a personality? I always thought that the standard by which those were measured was Kathie Lee Gifford; she was the most insincere human being possible. You think, ‘She has no personality at all.’ Now, having seen Rita Sever, I realize Kathie Lee DOES have a personality. It’s annoying and its superficial, but it’s a fully fleshed-out character study compared to Rita. Rita Sever could be computer generated for all I know. It’s astounding. She’s kind of like Jar Jar. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out she was entirely digital in origin.”