Q&A: The Onion’s Ronald Metellus

Ronald Metellus has written acclaimed satire pieces for prestigious publications like The Onion, The New Yorker and Flexx Magazine. He’s also a writer-in-residence on NPR’s Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me. I met up with him at Win Win Coffee Bar to discuss his upcoming Online Comedy Writing class at Good Good Comedy Theatre, how observations can be made with satire, and giving voices to inanimate objects.

So you’ve written for NPR and The New Yorker, is that correct?
Mm-hmm.

Do you think you have more of a tote bag energy or a bumper sticker energy?
Tote bag for sure. I have a couple tote bags now and that’s the kind of stuff that you get writing for these publications but yeah, I don’t want any bumper stickers on my car.

You’ve also written for The Onion. Has anyone ever mistaken a satire piece that you wrote for reality?
Yes. My friends will very generously repost my stuff and then their family will comment like, “What is this?”

I really liked a piece that you did for Flexx that was like “Neon Sign Can’t Wait To Unplug After A Long Day Illuminating Drunk White Girls.”

Yeah, I think one of the cool things you can do with satire is have a smaller observation, which is what I like about it as compared to stand-up, where your observations have to be a little broader or a little bigger. One of the headlines that got one of the better responses that I did [at The Onion] was, “Sleeping Man Flanked By Laptop, Phone, and Earbuds Like Egyptian Pharaoh Buried With All His Treasures.” And I feel like people really felt it but if I said that in the form of a performance, I don’t think it would land that hard.

So in order to write from the perspective of a neon sign, that takes a lot of imagination. Is that a skill that can be taught in a class like yours?
I’m gonna teach from [my perspective of] being in the rooms and my own personal process when I write stuff when I’m not in the room. When you’re writing from the perspective of a neon sign or Area Man you’re trying to build the rhetoric of tropes—what are things that you would expect from this person or this object or this point of view?

 

Ronald Metellus on the panel for Dark Tank at Good Good | Photo by Jason Taylor

It seems like another skill you need to have in order to write satire is a finger on the beat of current events every single day. So is that also a skill, of learning how to just read the news all day? Is that also something that can be taught in a class?
When I was [at The Onion] and we would have a big event, like someone from the White House would resign or something, I would get in my head about trying to find a take that hasn’t been covered yet. I think what helped me a lot with that is using the fact that we’re a news publication, or a satire of a news publication, and instead of making it a joke, just make it a news headline. Sometimes it really is just enough to call out what it is instead of trying to be super verbose. That is a focus of one class: understanding tropes such that when a news story breaks out, you have the rhetoric to deal with asking: what’s the language that I can apply to this situation that makes sense?

You’re going to be recreating a writer’s room for this class. Can you talk about what that’ll be like?
The headlines will be compiled and we’ll read them out—the stuff that we think is interesting or that gets votes in the room. Then we’ll brainstorm and that’s just a free-for-all, just figuring out: what does this headline elicit in you as far as how it could be expanded in the form of an article? I will be reading drafts, giving notes, and telling people, “Hey, you might want to consider this,” or giving edits and stuff. Then it’s up to them to implement the edits and take it where they want to take it.

Ronald Metellus’ Online Comedy Writing class starts on Thursday, September 19th. You can enroll right here.

You can also check out info about Good Good’s Diversity Scholarship here.