By Jacob Nelson
At first, it looks like a BuzzFeed headline: “14 Romantic Date Ideas for Valentine’s Day that Won’t Break the Bank.” But click on it, and it becomes quickly clear that this is not your average clickbait.
“1. Dip your bodies in hot, scented wax to become a pair of exquisite spa candles,” the list begins. “With some fresh herbs and a couple wicks, you and your date can turn your living room into a palace of sensuality for cheap.”
This is Clickhole, a spinoff of the Chicago-based, satirical newspaper The Onion. It launched last June, and it specializes in skewering dumbed-down Internet content, according to associate editor Jamie Brew.
However, what began as a something meant to target and make fun of other sites has broadened its scope over time while fine-tuning its voice.
“There was a lot of concern this was going to have a short shelf life — it would do it’s thing, make fun of all this clickbait and then have nothing else to say,” Brew said. “There was always a sense in the writer’s room that we needed to make this thing live longer than that.”
The solution? Use Clickhole as the venue to make fun of anything, and package it in a way that’s familiar to all Internet users. The results have been surprising and hilarious.
Some of these take on the self-help genre, like “Tips for Crafting the Perfect Email Subject Line,” which includes the gem “For urgent emails, write ‘I HAVE YOUR DAUGHTER.’” Then there’s Clickhole’s take on the Internet quiz, which includes “Which Hungry Hungry Hippo Are You?” But the kind of content that Brew says is “quintessential Clickhole” is their take on current events and popular culture, like last September’s piece “Stunning Map Shows Just How Much Of Iraq And Syria Vice Now Controls.”
“The headline is so clickbaity, The Onion could never run it,” Brew said, “but the joke it ends up hitting in the way that an Onion article would hit.”
Brew helped launch Clickhole after a two-year stint as a Onion writer. He started working at The Onion through its fellowship program, which was right around the time that he first started thinking this sort of writing could be more than a hobby. Before then, he’d written for Brown University’s satirical newspaper, but hadn’t expected the craft to take him places after he graduated.
“It’s really the only kind of writing I’ve ever been good at,” Brew said. “It’s always been there, off to the side in my life.”
Now, Brew works with about 25 people to generate content for Clickhole, and the more time that passes, the more he feels like they’re all figuring out the site’s voice.
“Sometime five or six months after the site started, writing started to feel less focused over what Clickhole should be and more into the actual jokes,” Brew said, “and the group really started to click then.”
And focusing on jokes more has made Brew realize that he and his staff still have a lot of material to work with.
“There’s so much unexplored territory, so many formats and so many Internet tropes,” he said, “There are plenty of people online making jokes… there’s never been a site as visible as Clickhole is doing it, never a collected center. It feels new.”