Comic writer John O'Farrell, unveiling a news comedy website, wanted to know why there were so few satirical websites. Newton Emerson, editor of the spoof Portadown News, casts a light on where to find the hidden comedy gems.
Newton Emerson, editor of the now "decommissioned" spoof Portadown News
You can tell me that humour is entirely subjective, but you can't tell me that the late lamented Framley Examiner wasn't the funniest British website of all time.
Was it "satire" though? It certainly satirised every self-obsessed tick of the parochial press.
However, since the 1960s satire has come to mean mockery of politics and in particular party politics, alongside knowing digs at the national media.
Private Eye pioneered this approach and it remains the UK's satirical standard in any medium.
But the magazine's website offers only a taster of the print publication. Until someone comes up with a way of making enough money online to pay a libel lawyer's retainer, Private Eye's combination of jokes and journalism is not the sort of thing that can simply be given away.
The other clear inspiration for most British satirical sites is The Onion, although few know that this is also a long-established print publication offering only a taster online.
Five years ago The Onion's website was on everyone's bookmark list but it is rarely mentioned now, having suffered from the syndrome Viz long ago named: "Not as funny as it used to be".
John O'Farrell has launched newsbiscuit.com
In fact, The Onion is exactly as funny as it used to be and that is exactly the problem. The internet is driven by novelty and the Private Onion style of many British satire sites often looks extremely dated.
Spoof election site Spinon took things to the next level with Flash animation and Random Perspective has taken things to next level again with home-made video reports.
But it is a lot to ask people labouring for love to become unpaid animators, programmers and video producers purely for our passing amusement. When even network television struggles to fill a weekly satire slot, a regularly-updated basic webpage is enough to expect from any talented team of internet amateurs.
Deadbrain has been updating daily since July 2001 and has lent its name to a separately-written US edition for the past three years.
Like most successful satire sites it welcomes contributions from readers with the promise of bringing their writing to a wider audience.
Funny not angry
"We try to be as unbiased as possible, particularly when it comes to politics," notes the submission advice. "People don't come here for you to vent your anger at them. They come here to laugh."
Deadbrain is definitely good for a laugh, as is the equally venerable Rockall Times, but without anger and even bias satire often lacks an edge.
This is something that The Voice of Reason seems to appreciate, although its anger is directed primarily at the press. Stories are written in a parody of the style of various newspapers, beneath cunningly-spoofed mastheads. This gives a double twist to every item but it can also make the layout a bit of a mess.
Social Scrutiny manages to be both angry and beautiful and by devoting itself entirely to mocking a fictional government department it also manages to ridicule British politics without ever once mentioning a British politician. Be careful though - the current threat level is Avocado.
The Derby Gripe was set up to take a real-life public authority to task and Derby City Council was not amused. Now shorn of unauthorised logos, this site blurs the line between satire and curmudgeonly commentary but always in an entertaining fashion.
The US and UK news sections in The Spoof indicate an international merger trend among surviving Private Onions but there is no doubt that the main trend is closure.
The Brains Trust, Herd of Sheep, New World Odour and KTAB News are just a few of the sites that have disappeared or simply stopped updating in the past year, despite being widely well-regarded.
There is obviously a limit to how long anyone can be bothered with a demanding hobby that inevitably starts to feel like work. But the ever-increasing creative possibilities of the internet are also leading people in new directions.
The multimedia mucking about made possible by sites like YouTube has undoubtedly left traditional satire pages standing. It will only be a matter of time before television-quality skits and sketches start dropping into inboxes like so much fake Viagra.
Then, of course, there are the blogs, the best of which draw on insider humour from hundreds of regular sources. It seems sadly beside the point to make something up when you can simply log on to Guido Fawkes or its Northern Ireland equivalent Slugger O'Toole and watch politics soar beyond parody.
After giving everyone the power to publish their own satirical newsletter, it will be a pity if the internet now denies success to anyone without the resources of a broadcaster.
The UK is still a funny country, but extracting the urine online is looking more and more like a serious business.
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Not forgetting, the North West of Ireland's leading site. Pure Derry. www.purederry.com it takes a satirical look at life in Derry and the surrounding regions. No one is safe.
Thank you so much for reminding me of the Framely Examiner. It may have not been updated since 2004 but even the old material bought tears of laughter to my eyes.
Perhaps the reason these sites are not visited very often is the amount of annoying popups which keep appearing when using microsoft based web browsers.
Pip Battie, Grays
There are some industry specific satirical sites, too. A couple of talented freelance writers in the insurance industry have launched a site lampooning the insurance industry and press, www.riskbitz.com - much of the content will mean little to those outside the bizarre world of commercial insurance, but to those of us gainfully employed in this strange not-so-little business, it is a hoot! For what its worth, the plethora of personal blogs offering a satirical view of current events and issues may well be having an effect on those running, or looking to set up a satirical site.
Reuben Aitchison, London
Not forgetting the superb footballing media satire found at www.the-onion-bag.com (with which I have no association other than a reader).
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