Thursday, May 29, 2014

Beehive Bugle

Posted By on May 29, 2014, 11:59 PM

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As long as there are rods up the ass of at least half this state's population, there will always be a home for satire in Utah. --- The Beehive Bugle has been giving local residents a taste of snark, sarcasm, parody and just good ol' pissing-people-off type humor for almost a year now, taking stabs at everything the state has to offer in politics, sports, entertainment and religion. Its like having a local version of The Onion in our own back yard. They've done such an impressive job, they snagged a Best Of Utah award this year for the work they've done, which included making other writers laugh our asses off.

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Today we chat with the two founders of the Bugle, Greg Wilcox and Jack Waters, about forming the online parody paper, taking shots at everyone they can and the reactions so far, thoughts on where they hope to be and a few other topics. (All pictures courtesy of Beehive Bugle.)

Jack & Greg Wilcox

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Gavin: Hey guys, first thing, tell us a little bit about yourselves.

Jack: I’m Jack Waters, and I grew up near Little Rock, Ark., but I went to high school here in Utah. I’m the black sheep of my Mormon-pioneer-descended family. I’m glacially finishing my undergrad degree in journalism at Utah Valley University. I’m constantly reading worthwhile books, which I feel is the best way for writers to use energy. My bookshelves are stocked and mock me endlessly in a Borgesian way. I’m also a big San Francisco Giants fan. I think laughter is the best balm, and I’m lucky to have hilarious friends--like Greg and our other partner in crime Rob Steffen, with whom I banter.

Greg: I’m Greg Wilcox, I grew up in the charming town of Bluffdale, roughly a half-hour south of SLC, or as I always tell people, by the prison. I’m not the black sheep of my similarly Mormon family, but there are black sheep in the fields where I grew up. I graduated from UVU a few years ago in English and Sociology. I think my interest in the eccentricities and sometimes absurdities of culture, especially Utah culture, propels my interest in doing a satire publication where it can be explored in funny, and if we’re successful, sometimes relevant way.

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Gavin: How did each of you take an interest in comedy and parody, and what were some early influences on you?

Greg: We’re both huge fans of The Onion. It’s a constant source of inspiration for doing news satire, and it’s obviously the main influence for doing this sort of thing. Other than that, I’d say Monty Python is a key early influence on our comedic sensibilities.

Jack: Agreed on The Onion and Monty Python. Norm MacDonald is a titan of the shaggy-dog joke, which is a widely hated joke form that I happen to love. I used to watch the Marx Brothers. with my dad. I’d also add Bill Hicks, Mitch Hedberg, Tina Fey, Larry David, Sarah Silverman, Louis C.K., Dave Chappelle, even the king of evasive wisecracking, Bob Dylan. Rob introduced me to The Phil Hendrie Show, which is hilarious. Literature is a big influence as well. A lot of humor is found in the work of Donald Barthelme, David Foster Wallace, Thomas Pynchon, George Saunders, etc.

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Gavin: What made you get into writing and how was it for you practicing and finding your voice?

Jack: My mom, a librarian, read stories to me as a kid; I then wanted to tell my own stories. I won a story-writing contest in elementary with a story about a leprechaun. I wanted to write a second, but I’d exhausted my few ideas, so I decided to mimic my favorite book at the time, Jerry Spinelli’s Maniac Magee. I never completed Lunatic Larry, but it taught me a lesson I still use: once you have a character’s demeanor down, stories can write themselves. Place a Seinfeld character in any situation and you can imagine how they’ll react before they do because they’re fully formed. When it comes to Beehive Bugle, I start with the premise or headline, and find a character’s voice to drive it home. You really have to stumble myriad times before you can find a voice. It’s like a personal rap battle; you’ve got to one-up yourself with each new draft or idea.

Greg: I didn’t really get into writing until I started doing it on a whim for the college newspaper. I enjoyed dystopian writers like Huxley and Orwell in High School, and I eventually got into Modernist writers like James Joyce in college, but I had actually failed English 2010 before finally passing it from a teacher who got through to me and helped me see I was capable of decent writing. My first piece for the paper was about UVSC (which is what UVU was at the time) students who wear BYU apparel. It was well received and fun to do, so you could say this is continuation down that road. I’m sure that continues to this day, by the way, and maybe needs to be covered satirically, something like “After Extensive Search, Ponder and Prayer, BYU Aspirant Condescends To Take Course At UVU.”

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Gavin: When did the two of you first meet each other and become friends?

Jack: We met in college as staff members of UVU’s newspaper. Our senses of humor and sarcasm aligned well, and we’ve been roommates a few times over the last seven to eight years.

Gavin: How did the idea come about to start up the Beehive Bugle?

Greg: We were tweeting a hashtag, I think it was #NewNamesForTheDailyUniverse, when BYU’s newspaper was changing its name due to becoming weekly instead of daily. We were coming up with names like the Kolob Kourier, the Brigham Beacon, stuff like that, and then we just shifted into exploring possible names for what a Utah-based satire publication might be. Somehow we ended up with Beehive Bugle, which works well for us because besides being alliterative there’s something funny about those two things being thrown together. Also, bugles are loud and obnoxious, and that sums up what we’re doing pretty well.

Jack: The kernel for the idea of Beehive Bugle started many years before we came up with the name, though. I was the Editor in Chief of UVU’s newspaper, and the staff frequently shared Onion articles, and I used them in training meetings and presentations at conferences. We did an April Fool’s Day issue of the newspaper with satirical Utah themes, and a lot of the staff seemed to care more about that issue than our regular issues. Myself, Greg, Mel Sundquist, and Marcus Jones did most of the work for that issue, and we loved it. Greg and I talked about doing it more often--this was 2009--and our ideas slowly marinated from there. In late 2011 and early 2012, Greg and I met regularly and I restructured a Tumblr theme to host our sparse content, and we started writing. In summer 2013 we decided we needed an actual website, so our fiendishly witty and talented friend Rob Steffen joined us, and we effectively became the Unholy Trinity. We use pen names for our articles. I’m Timothy McFoster, Greg is Tommy Cox, Rob is Russell Stewart.

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Gavin: Considering how many parody sites there are on the web, where did you draw influence from as to the kind of direction you wanted to take it?

Jack: It’s a battle in the bandwidth out there; it’s crazy how many are out there, including many here in Utah. Utah is prime for satire, so it’s not surprising that there are dozens of sites attempting it. The important thing for us is that we write the story the right way. Most of the content I’ve read from our fellow Utah satirists seems to hold back too much. I feel that they’re like a caffeine-free diet off-brand version of what is possible with the article. Sure, they’ll have a good idea for an article from time to time, but I feel it’s best to wrestle with the idea. Much of the parody and satire I read looks like the first draft to a better direction. The societal narrative and power structures we are all forced to confront has a point of tension, and parody or satire is best when it’s creating friction against that force. So we’ll exaggerate reality though parody, or rearrange contextual elements with satire. The Onion is the omniscient deity of satire to whom we’re often lain prostrate at her feet.

Greg: We’ve mainly focused on producing quality content and what makes us laugh. We’ll often collaboratively workshop articles down to the smallest details, like debate on where a certain expletive should be placed, and look at whether an article’s content and phrasing is inartful. So while we admire some of the things other sites similar to ourselves are doing, we’re also too wrapped up in the process of creating it ourselves.

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Gavin: What was it like for both of you coming up with material for the website and formulating it into solid stories?

Greg: It’s a lot of fun; it’s always exciting to relay story ideas, talk about what’s being worked on, and figure out what image is going to go along with it. To ensure good ideas don’t go down the drain, we’ve made a master-list of headline ideas and we even have headlines on sticky notes. Honestly though, it’s hard to force and most don’t get written. Most the stories come about because one of us has the impulse to write it, either something parodying a recent news story, like the recent “ASSISTED: LDS Church Agrees To Rename Temple After John Stockton If He Agrees To Coach Jazz,” or ones like "Santa Once Again Brings Rich Neighborhood Prick More Presents Than Good Kid" that are more general. We also have collaborators that continually delight us with the hilarity of their submissions.

Jack: It’s a blast. Like Greg said, we usually just follow an impulse and run with it. We hang out a lot, and bounce ideas off each other often. Sometimes we anticipate upcoming events, and as is often the case in Utah, the actual news of an event is weirder than us satirizing it. I recently went with Rob to a speech at UVU given by Elder Dallin Oaks to see if there was anything we could write about, and realized that we could quote his entire speech verbatim. So when things are tautological in that way, we move on and work on other pieces. We probably have hundreds of half-written articles and a thousand ideas that we’ve folded.

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Gavin: Do you find it easier to make local jokes because of all the oddities in our state, or is it harder because a lot of the obvious jokes have been done already?

Greg: I think we realized early on that rapid-fire attempts to satirize every single Utah story wasn’t a good approach. It becomes too predictable, easy and boring. Everyday Utah seems to have something that could be exploited comedically, but there’s only so many articles that can be written in a row on the ongoing gay marriage issue or Mormon wackiness before it gets tiresome. So the challenge then is can we create satire that looks at the issue at hand in a unique way that’s also not heavy-handed. I’d say the eccentricities of our state give us a lot of material to work with, but it can be hard to find the right angle to make it publishable.

Jack: Utah has some of most interesting American subcultures, so we’re swimming like Scrooge in gold coins of rich anthropological material. The LDS Church is so clinically sanitized in structure that it is its own character, system, form and center that allows us freeplay in the Derridean sense. We know so well the coherence of the system, and the structure of the Church allows us to shuffle the elements inside the total form. We’re not strangers here, and it’s not a foreign land, so it’s possible for us to fictionalize, as we have, the American Fork East 17th Ward. I write about this fake congregation in a way which shows that the very public disavowal of pornography actually tips the cap that they’re obviously addicted; their usage is conveyed by their manner of trying to hide the fact: they spell out the very specific types of pornography that they absolutely do not watch. They’re deliberately in denial--indeed their names are Pynchonianly derived names like Ward Clerk Wally D. Nyles (wall of denials) and Bishop Forrest Gildt (forced guilt). These types of articles tend to get smaller attention than others, perhaps because they cover topics many are uncomfortable acknowledging. Outside of hopefully eliciting laughter, if we could help rid some Utahns of guilt or passivity then that would be superb.

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Gavin: What was it like getting other people to write for the website and contribute content?

Jack: It took a little prodding at first, but more people have been open to contributing. We actually have a backlog from contributors of really good articles that just need a good image, or they are timely for events in the future. I also have a few former girlfriends that are easily some of the best writers I know, and I’m hoping they write articles for us someday soon. Expanding the staff can only help Beehive Bugle carry on.

Greg: We’re fortunate to know a lot talented people who also have the desire and knack for writing satire pieces. Just mentioning what we’re doing is enough to entice many collaborators to submit content. Other times, we’ve encouraged it from those we know will do something funny and original. General Conference seems to be a big draw and fodder-provider for many submissions.

Gavin: What's been your favorite story to date and why?

Jack: It’s tough to choose one. My favorite pun is “Whoever named anything good after an onion?” from Rob’s article “Payson’s ‘Golden Onion Days’ To Be Renamed ‘Blue Meth Days.’” Perhaps my favorite I’ve written is, “Holy Ghost Retires After ‘Prompted’ Imbeciles Topple Goblin Valley Rock” because those guys infuriated me when they said the Spirit told them to do it; there’s no way the Holy Ghost would notarize those shenanigans.

Greg: I’d say the “Ordain Willem [Dafoe] Movement Picks Up Steam” one is up there. My brother wrote it, and it just made me laugh really hard because it was taking a random celebrity to play off the Ordain Women movement, but when you read it it’s actually making very salient points about how the Church would sooner give the priesthood to a guy who starred in a movie titled Antichrist than they would to any woman.

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Gavin: Have you ever gotten an email from someone who just didn't get the story was a joke?

Greg: We tend to see the most confusion on Facebook when someone shares it on their wall, flummoxing some of their friends who don’t know what Beehive Bugle is. We always get excited about that, because when that happens it feels like we’ve succeeded. Sometimes a person will accurately point out that the article’s image was “clearly Photoshopped,” which is always funny. Similar to the philosophy behind the deliberately half-assed impersonations of celebrities on South Park, we’re of the opinion that satire images are funnier if they are at least a little shoddy.

Jack: Those responses are hilarious. To hoodwink the unbeknownst is a cherry on top of a Sundae, or as it’s called here, the Saebbath. We once had an article discussed on a White Power online forum. It was Rob’s story, with accompanying documents, “REPORT – Wikileaks Forces Pull of New Revelation at General Conference.” Those posting were upset that according to our article, the LDS church was too lenient to the LGBT community. But until the church Wilford-Woodruffs itself out of its current bullying with a new Manifesto, that assumption doesn’t stand, which should make those white supremacists sleep well at night.

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Gavin: Has anyone in local politics or media hit you guys up about any of your stories?

Jack: One of the first articles I wrote was about talented news anchor Nineveh Dinha, who had just become engaged. Despite her being an Edward R. Murrow award-winner for Spot News, it’s her beauty that is referred to more frequently when she’s mentioned. I tweeted our story, “On-call Ear Doctors Rushed To Clinics As Nineveh Dinha’s Engagement Breaks Hearts At Unparalleled Rate” to her, and she took it very well, shared it with her followers, sent a direct message to compliment the writing, sent it to her fiance, etc. It’s nice when public figures have a nice sense of humor like that. It’s like when Charmin tweeted back at comedian Rob Delaney after he told them a bear ate his son. If Jason Chaffetz could stop saying the word Benghazi maybe he’d finally respond to us.

Greg: We also went out to Temple Square and talked with Kate Kelly, founder of Ordain Women, and she told us she’d heard of our posts before. We showed her an article a friend of ours wrote that we published, “Sandy Woman’s Fears Confirmed as Michelle Obama Spotted Leading Ordain Women Protest at Conference Center.” She laughed and expressed approval even though she was very busy taking calls from people like The Wall Street Journal.

Gavin: What do you hope to achieve with the website in the longrun?

Greg: We hope to continue providing quality satire relevant to the state of Utah -- that’s our number one priority. Whatever comes from that is open territory.

Jack: I’ll echo Greg’s words. We hope it lives a long life, and I think quality will determine the quantity of years for Beehive Bugle.

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Gavin: If someone wants to write for the Beehive Bugle, what do they need to do?

Jack: Bribe us! Or just contact us and submit. It’s best to first read a few of our articles to get a feel of our headlines, images, and articles. Then contact us on the website, email, Facebook, twitter, wherever. Or find us in public and let us know, which has already happened. We workshop the majority of our content. Some of the best work is done behind the scenes, when Jack, Greg and Rob workshop an article to bring it into the quality worthy of being published on Beehive Bugle.

Greg: Submit! If it’s good, then there’s a good chance we’ll use it. Even if it’s not written great but the idea is good, we’ll often work to develop it into something publishable.

Gavin: Are you looking to expand the website or the content in any way yet, or are things good where they are?

Greg: We’re currently in the process of redesigning the website, and fairly soon it will be able to accommodate more diverse content.

Jack: After the redesign of the website, we’ll have a few more features. We’ve talked about adding audio and video elements, as well as cheap merchandise.

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Gavin: What can we expect from both of you and the website over the rest of the year?

Jack: Utah will always be ripe for content. Legislative sessions, General Conference -- these things are like softball tosses. We’ll try to avoid the easy jokes, but whatever we do we’ll make sure we give it deliberate, circumspect effort. We have an idea of a complementary branch of Beehive Bugle in which we interview people throughout the state. The idea is in the early stages still, because it needs to be done correctly. It won’t be satire; its aim will be an attempted blend between what Studs Terkel and Scott Carrier do. They’re experts at interviewing subjects. The Onion does a similar thing with the AV Club.

Greg: You can probably expect more articles about Utah treasures like Dell Schanze, Church leadership, BYU, Governor Herbert and more. Also, you can expect t-shirts, stickers and other great merchandise.

Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to promote or plug?

Jack: Like our page on Facebook and follow our Twitter feed, because content will continue on our website. If you’re not going to read the scriptures, you might as well read us. We’ve only just begun to nourish and strengthen the Beehive State.

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