|Spoofing Washington and Wall Street|
|The Razor-Sharp Wit of Satirist Andrew Marlatt|
The comic genius behind SatireWire.com talks about his new book, Economy of Errors, what inspires his irreverent brand of economic and political satire, and how his site became one of the most popular humor destinations on the Web.
By Daniel Kurtzman
Marlatt was just as guilty as anyone of feeding the dot-com hysteria.
as a high-tech business reporter for Internet World during the height of the
boom, Marlatt wrote his share of fawning stories about some highly questionable
Internet business plans that he admits "suckered me right in."
there came a moment in 1999 when the absurdity of all the hype and euphoria
finally hit him, right around the time he was profiling a company called
Justballs.com. "Their business model was selling just balls," Marlatt
recalls. No hoops, gloves, or tees, just balls. "I thought, 'I have to get
out of this. Either they're all crazy or I am.'"
longer able to cover the dot-com craze with a straight face, he decided instead
to poke fun at it, and in Dec. 1999, he launched SatireWire.com.
Under the banner of "new satire for the new economy," Marlatt began
skewering America's corporate chieftains, double-talking analysts, and the
breathless journalistic cheerleaders who were peddling the false promises of the
Internet gold rush. Bringing the world such hard-hitting stories as "Market
Experts Say Now Is Not Time to Panic; Time to Panic Comes Next Monday " and
"Fed Drop Rates, Acid at Policy Rave," the site has grown into one of
the Internet's most popular humor destinations, drawing more than one million
of the gems that have made SatireWire a comic fixture are collected in Marlatt's
new book, Economy of Errors: SatireWire Gives Business the Business (Broadway
prices). Through a series of wildly funny news shorts, editorials,
fabricated interviews, and inexplicable charts, the book presents a mock history
of the new economy, chronicling riots at dot-com refugee camps, Cisco Systems'
overeager acquisition of itself, and AT&T's decision to lay off 120 percent
of its workforce in a bold cost-cutting move.
the other irreverent stories in Marlatt's tome: "Fired eBay Employees
Auctioned Off"; "Girlfriend Announces Disappointing Q2 Results:
Relationship Falls Well Below Expectations"; "Survey: Majority of Web
Users Are FBI Agents Posing as Teenage Girls"; and "Man Continually
Logs On/Off ObsessiveCompulsive.com."
The Onion remains the 900-pound
gorilla of dot-comedy, SatireWire's biting news spoofs and acutely observant
parodies are often better keyed into current events because they play off of
real headlines. And while The Onion publishes its news parodies weekly,
Marlatt updates SatireWire as often as absurdity warrants. The prolific output
is impressive when you consider the fact that Marlatt runs a one-man show —
something many of his fans don't realize. The masthead lists a fictitious editor
in chief and a fictitious copy editor for PR reasons, but in reality it's
Marlatt who serves as the sole editor, writer, graphic designer, technician, and
with two young children, Marlatt, 41, did not initially envision SatireWire as a
full-time gig, but quickly became engrossed. "It's such an obsessive thing
to do," he said. "Once you get any number of readers at all —
I think I had seven to begin with — you feel an
obligation to them." After the site started generating positive buzz, he
decided to focus on it exclusively. "I forgot to tell my wife about that
for like a month," he said. "She was wondering where the paychecks
were." They took awhile to come, but Marlatt now manages to make a
comfortable living from advertising revenue, voluntary contributions, and
reselling his articles, as well as from the book deal.
runs SatireWire out of a two-room office on the town green in Branford,
Connecticut, situated in the heart of what he calls "Silicongregational
alley." From there, he scours global headlines and riffs on the day's news.
He's no longer limiting his barbs to the business world; these days just about
anything is fair game, as evidence by these recent headlines: "Egan's Law
Passed: Police Must Notify Residents When Catholic Church Moves into
Neighborhood"; "Enhanced Airport Screening to Include Mammogram";
and "Canadian Warship Seizes Tanker In...Wait...Canada Has a Warship?"
Sept. 11, Marlatt has broadened his focus to include more political satire,
reflecting changed priorities and the shift in public interest away from the
stock market and the dot-coms.
the war on terrorism and homeland security do not always provide easy targets
for humor, sometimes Marlatt finds that the latest news screams out be
satirized. To wit: When President Bush announced in his State of the Union
address that Iraq, Iran and North Korea constituted an "Axis of Evil,"
he knew couldn't let that go.
got into the office the next morning, and I was just pacing, writing down 'Axis
of Evil' in big letters and small letters," Marlatt said. "I don't
know, but at some point it occurred to me: Wouldn't you be pissed off if you got
left out of that group?"
quickly filed a dispatch headlined "Angered
by Snubbing, Libya, China, Syria Form Axis of Just As Evil." The story
further reported: "Cuba, Sudan, and Serbia said they had formed the Axis of
Somewhat Evil, forcing Somalia to join with Uganda and Myanmar in the Axis of
Occasionally Evil, while Bulgaria, Indonesia and Russia established the Axis of
Not So Much Evil Really As Just Generally Disagreeable."
piece was widely forwarded by amused readers and also appeared in the Washington
Post, which has reprinted several of his best spoofs.
been said that great satire marries the ridiculous to the plausible, and in
Marlatt's case, sometimes his satire is so dead-on, it's not immediately
recognizable as fiction. Earlier this year he ran a story headlined: "FBI
To Issue 5-Day Terror Forecasts," suggesting that a recognizable format
should make it easier for Americans to organize their week. "Today's
outlook: light, scattered terrorism early, tapering off by noon. Tomorrow:
Clear, and seasonably dangerous," he wrote.
weeks later, Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge unveiled his much-ballyhooed
color-coded terrorism alert system. SatireWire readers immediately flooded
Marlatt's email inbox, saying the government had ripped off his idea.
in the current climate when many Americans remain on edge, Marlatt finds that
his subversive brand of humor is generally well received. "The only times
I'll get negative email tends to be when I make fun of, in a more coarse way
than normal, the president or the religious right," he said. "I'll get
emails saying 'you are so not funny,' and then I know I've written a good
said one critic even took the time to create a graph chart to illustrate exactly
how funny he isn't, showing him as a 2 on a funny scale of 1 to 10. "I
didn't know Laura Bush could even do graphics," he quipped.
these post-boom days where content is no longer king and even a site's wild
popularity no longer guarantees profits, SatireWire is a rare breed: a free
content site that actually generates decent money. Now, with his book hitting
stores, he's hoping to gain even wider exposure for his work, draw more people
to his site, and build on the success the Internet has made possible.
"In my case the Internet has been great," Marlatt said. "It basically took somebody from nowhere and it allowed him to be on the same stage with bigger competition. It's an Internet success story, ironically, that got its start by making fun of Internet success stories."