Oct. 11, the Wisconsin Union Directorate kicked off their Distinguished Lecture Series, with Scott Dikkers, a longtime resident of Madison and co-founder of the satirical empire known as The Onion headling.

Naturally, Dikkers hour-long lecture entitled “The Funny Story Behind Funny Stories” made for an energetic, laughter-filled Monday night.

Before moving to Madison in the 1980s, Dikkers grew up in rural Wisconsin where he went through a difficult childhood. To cope with his parent’s divorce and an abusive relationship with his stepdad, Dikkers turned to comedy as a coping mechanism.

In an interview with the Badger Herald, Dikkers said, “If there hadn’t been comedy, it would’ve been a really dark existence.”

A turning point in his life came in his early twenties when Scott Dikkers moved to Madison where — when he wasn’t working long hours at the local McDonald’s — he was perfecting his cartoons. Dikkers sent in his work and was denied by numerous newspaper outlets before UW student newspaper, The Daily Cardinal gave him a chance.

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His running cartoon segment known as Jim’s Journal quickly gained traction amongst UW students. Before he knew it, Dikkers cartoon was being circulated in college newspapers across the country, but it was not until 1988 that Dikkers began to change this profitable hobby into a career.

In 1988, two UW students, Tim Keck and Christopher Johnson, approached Dikkers about an idea for a humor publication. Dikkers signed on to the enterprise, creating humorous cartoons for The Onion’s first series of issues.

After a year of operations, Keck and Johnson sold The Onion newspaper to a group of buyers that included Dikkers, the current editor in chief.

In 1996, the Onion’s readership skyrocketed with the founding of TheOnion.com — the world’s first online humor publication.

“By the time the internet became viable in ’96, it was a no-brainer because we were already coming out with weekly publications, so we saw it as just another way to distribute our material,” Dikkers said. “And The Onion has always followed this. Whenever there was a new medium, we would get into it.”

In the decades following, The Onion gained a huge online following which has allowed the company to expand into video news with the creation of the Onion News Network, a satirical local news simulation that has quickly become a staple of The Onion’s operations.

With its distribution becoming quite wide, The Onion’s trend of fooling mainstream media outlets with their satirical headlines has become synonymous with the company. For instance, Dikkers recalled a time in which The Onion tricked China’s official newspaper into republishing their satirical feature declaring North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un the “sexiest man alive.” This was one of many “The Onion moments” that had the crowd roaring throughout the night.

Dikkers credits social media as a huge factor behind The Onion’s growth. What started as a small expectation, humorous print newspaper in Madison has blossomed into one of the largest satirical news outlet in the world with two million YouTube Subscribers and over eleven million followers on Twitter.

“I think it was somewhat of a pipedream at first — just hoping that maybe someday we would even be mentioned in the same breath as humor magazines like The National Lampoon or Spy Magazine, so it has been amazing to see how far we’ve come,” Dikkers said.

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In many ways, Dikkers has dismantled the stereotype that comedy is a risky, unrewarding career. While he admits the first few years on the scene can be difficult, he emphasizes the importance of staying true to the course and the success that builds.

“The cool thing about comedy is that—once you get to a certain point—you can sort of write your own ticket,” Dikkers said.

And, crafting his own ticket is just what he has done, writing books, headlining podcasts and touring the nation telling his story to aspiring comedy writers and The Onion fans the only way he knows how to … one laugh at a time. When asked for his best piece of life advice, the satire wizard joked, “Believe everything you read and hear.”