To give a VERY recent example: one of the main events the past 2 days was a viral tweet from Trinidadian rap artist Nicki Minaj where she described a friend of her cousin blaming a COVID vaccine for his swollen testicles, followed by doctors around the world explaining it's more likely to be an STI. Even the Trinidadian Secretary of Health chimed in saying they do not have any records of this case. Then in response to another tweet of Minaj saying people would shove marbles up their anus if Democrats asked them to, Fox News asked a Republican congressman live on air "you're not gonna shove marbles up your ass, are you?".

News events like these feel like something that only 5 years ago would appear on sites like The Onion or The Babylon Bee. Entire communities have appeared sharing news items like this which feel satirical but are real news, and the articles seem wilder and wilder with each passing week.

A related problem is that alongside the rise of real news that feels like satire, there's also been a massive increase in news articles that appear real and realistic, but are actually spreading lies and misinformation to further their own agenda.

It feels like if you're writing satire, it runs the risk of either being seen as real because it's something that might conceivably happen, or being accused of trying to pass fake news as genuine even though you're just trying to tell a joke.

People tend to know that certain sources are satire and should be interpreted as such, but it's not always the case. Starting out as a new satirical author means people will generally believe you even if you place 30 point capitals on your about page saying your news is satirical.

What's the most appropriate way to deal with this conundrum? How can an artist responsibly write satire, i.e. in a way that people will instantly see that it's meant for comedy and that it's not supposed to be real?

1 Answer 1


In 1729, almost three hundred years ago, Jonathan Swift wrote his most famous piece of satire, "A Modest Proposal." It was meant to mock and shame common attitudes towards the poor, by underlining them and then blowing them up to a ridiculous proportion for comedic effect - i.e. the poor being a waste of space, or lazy, or leeching off the government and not being useful to their communities. The piece explains in great detail how they lack our country's values, they don't have the prudence to spend money reasonably and build their savings and instead rely on government handouts, they come from other countries that don't share our "ways" and they take our jobs and etcetera and etcetera...

Does any of that sound like a familiar sentiment? Three hundred years later?

That's because sentiments, and "current" issues, are almost never as "current" as we think they are. People in our society have been arguing about the same issues for centuries, in thousands of ways and forms - immigration, social issues, marriage, death, taxes, sensitivity, politics, government, social justice, all of it. You name it, there is probably some very pointed 1700s or 1800s satire about it. I'll leave that for you to explore on your own, but trust me - history doesn't have many themes to go around.

That should give you an important clue about how to write effective satire, even in a modern world where everything seems so ludicrous and unbelievable. You're absolutely right. The state of the world right now is ludicrous and unbelievable. Anything you write will seem real because of it, right? It might seem like it could actually be a hot take somebody has, no matter how absolutely ridiculous it sounds?

THAT'S THE SATIRE. EMBRACE IT. That is your satirical edge. The very fact that your writing will seem realistic in our world is the satire! That right there is where your comedic edge lies. Write about it! Write about issues! Write about anything! If you commit to your bit, put research and effort into your statements to make them as ludicrously believable as possible, and never waver from your chosen tone and subject, your satirical writing will be an absolute hit.

But maybe you are worried about offending people. Maybe you genuinely worry that somebody will take it seriously, or give you a scathing review about how you're spreading fake news.

Great! That's satirical too! The fact that some people out there won't realize it's meant to be satire, and are nuts enough to take your writing as serious Gospel, is hilarious and useful satirical material for your next pieces! Just look at all the examples of people taking Onion articles as actual news and making Twitter posts about how awful and worrying the headline is, only to be endlessly mocked and "whooshed" for not getting the joke. If you're worried about rankling some feathers and ruffling some attitudes, then that's exactly what satire is about, and to effectively write it, you need to embrace that, too. You won't please anybody, and you'll make enemies and piss some people off, and that's all a part of it. (Just, you know, don't piss too many people off. Otherwise it ceases to be satire and just becomes cruel.)

Go forth, now, and satirize with pride! Swift would be proud.

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