Do you have what it takes to join The Sack?

(Emma Fong | Daily Trojan)

Josh Wolk struck me as surprisingly nice for a guy who runs headlines like “Cucumber Sick and Tired of Just Being Used For Sex” and “Top 10 GILFs Who Died Before I Got The Chance.” (He wrote neither of those articles, but I figure this is an acceptable instance of guilt by association.) 

Wolk is president of The Sack of Troy, USC’s self-acclaimed “second-best parody newspaper” — you’ve probably seen it on Instagram at some point. The paper publishes a regular stream of content varying in sexual innuendo, unvarying in hilarity and probably sexier than the Daily Trojan (bo-ring).

Anyways. Last weekend, The Sack was gracious enough to allow me to sit in on its weekly pitch meeting in the hopes of answering just one question: Do you (yes, you) have what it takes to join The Sack of Troy?

To be fair, not all of The Sack’s stories contain innuendo or outright references to foodstuffs in bodily orifices — that was apparent from the onset of the Sunday evening staff meeting on the first floor of Waite Phillips Hall. 

We opened with a round of pitches, where every writer recited headline ideas that I assume some meticulously crafted over the week, and some wrote on the spot. During a later speed brainstorm on a surprise topic, most ideas seemed to come with a preceding “I hate this one” or “This sounded a lot better in my head.” Typical.

Each pitch was accompanied by laughter from the rest of the team — the volume of which seemed to correlate to the hilarity of the idea — then the relief of approval from Editor-in-Chief Sarah Cortina, who typically chose one or two of each writer’s ideas to move forward with. Every idea seemed to at least get a pity laugh.

At one point, a writer pitched a headline reading “‘Ariel is Supposed to be White,’ Says Man Who is Supposed to be Employed.” That one got quite a few chuckles, but Cortina mistook “Ariel” for “areola” — though she still laughed along and issued her stamp of approval. Not every idea was a sex joke, but Cortina clearly wasn’t afraid of nipple talk. (She did later approve the original pitch.)

After the meeting, I got to talk with Wolk and Mia Young, who was last year’s editor-in-chief. (I wasn’t allowed to interview Cortina, because she also writes for the Daily Trojan.) I asked the two about finding the right balance between crude humor and, well, everything else.

Wolk argued that good satire often isn’t what shocks with its crudeness; it’s the stuff that points out real-world happenings and can spark a bigger conversation. Onion articles tend to be more memorable than op-eds in The Atlantic, he posited.

“It’s very easy for a lot of people to hear something simple, like a pun or something that just is funny and engage within the meeting,” Young said. “And they think that that equates to like, ‘A lot of people laughed at this because this is good satire.’”

(For the record, Young is the one who wrote the cucumber dildo story.)

But what Young said reminded me of a moment in the meeting when Wolk, not unlike your English teacher, gave a lecture on best-practice writing and a breakdown of what often makes comedy funny. He referenced ClickHole, a satirical news website where the humor tends to lie mostly in shock, rather than any sort of carefully crafted jabs.

“[ClickHole] is really funny,” Wolk said. “It’s just I don’t want to just become ClickHole — we can sprinkle a little bit. It’s the garnish.” 

That was followed by a very audible groan from the audience.

Wolk struck me as the nerd in the room, presenting writing tips that were quite similar to those I’ve heard in “real” newsrooms (avoid pleonasms, vary sentence length, don’t nominalize, etc.) and dutifully reminding writers that headlines must be self-contained jokes (because most people never actually read the body text).

In the past, Wolk has written stories that jab at conservative abortion policy, Jeff Bezos and high school sports prayers; he’s supposedly even inspired petitions in poking fun at the University.

“Don’t worry about likes,” Wolk said during the meeting. “Worry about saying what you want to say.”

So what does The Sack look for in its applicants? For one, I can report that while hardly every writer seemed to consistently crank out gold, it seemed fairly obvious that even the new writers were willing to pitch and workshop their ideas with others.

Wolk said that the application process isn’t particularly rigorous or selective, but that the team will, obviously, reject applications that just aren’t funny. He was pretty clear that everybody grows as a writer and comedian even after getting accepted onto staff, and noted that the team will sometimes reject applicants but hope that they reapply after growing as writers.

Want my two cents? If there’s one thing I learned from that meeting, it’s that satirical writing isn’t just the act of writing funny shit; it’s the act of writing funny thoughtful shit. Show that you’re an intelligent comedian. 

There are real and serious problems in the world that we try to shed light on here at the Daily Trojan and in the news industry more broadly. I learned this weekend that The Sack seems to be doing exactly what we are too — it’s just that sometimes, you need a good laugh to start a serious conversation.

I also might not be the best person to take advice from. There was a point in the meeting where the staff was brainstorming responses for an advice column, and one of the audience-submitted questions was something to the effect of: “My ballsack hurts, what should I do?” A staffer prompted me to share an idea, so I suggested replying with the link to an internet autofellatio tutorial. 

That one got a few pity laughs.