As students walk through the Diag in the middle of the day, they may come across a familiar scene of two or three figures holding newspapers. The figures are saying something, and as you get closer, you begin to make out their voices, shouting “Every Three Weekly!”
Some students ignore them and walk right by. Others approach them and take a copy — they’ve eagerly awaited the newest edition of the University’s student-run newspaper that specializes exclusively in humor and satire. They chuckle at the clever headlines and stuff the newspaper in their backpacks, looking forward to reading the full articles after class. Regardless of how the students on the Diag respond, the Every Three Weekly staffers never complain as they stand in the sometimes blistering cold, presenting the beautiful copy they’ve been working so hard on for three weeks.
No other University publication makes use of such a direct method of distribution — one way the Every Three Weekly separates itself from the pack.
“We like to have this opportunity to interact with our readers,” said the E3W’s Editor in Chief, LSA junior Marie Michels, when asked why they used this method. “It’s a time when we can talk to them face to face. We can often tell jokes as we’re passing out the issue, which is exciting.”
This personal method of distribution is smart, as many students may not have the time or energy to seek out copies on their own. And, ultimately, it is a testament to the Every Three Weekly staff’s pride in their work.
“After we’ve spent three weeks putting together an issue, we’re so excited about the content we’ve produced, and we’ve worked so hard to put it all together,” Michels said.
The Every Three Weekly was founded in 1997 by a group of students in the College of Engineering who hoped to create a medium for humor about life at the University. Inspired by The Onion, the newspaper format is easily digestible for readers. But learning to write in that style requires a bit of a learning curve.
“You can’t just write something that’s funny,” said Engineering freshman Peter Flanagan, a recently hired E3W writer. “You have to write something that’s funny and fits the guidelines of a standardized paper, so we’re actually parodying something. It’s difficult in that regard, getting used to it, but all the editors are really talented, so they all know how to reformat a joke to fit the guidelines, so they’re really helpful to new writers.”
The combination of humor and a standardized format is an ideal one for students for whom writing is usually not one of their favorite activities.
“It’s a good experience,” Flanagan said. “Engineers have to take a couple of English classes, so might as well get it in a club, too.”
While the Every Three Weekly does have a distinguished and recognizable style, it’s not immune to innovation. The publication is constantly trying to think of other ways to reach out to students and gain new readers. In addition to publishing its articles on a website, the paper has recently unveiled The Click House, a section of the website that satirizes online click-bait articles, similar to The Onion’s ClickHole.
“(New formats for the Every Three Weekly) are still up in the air and being debated,” Flanagan said. “With any form of web content, there’s also the opportunity to create videos, which is vastly out of our realm and scope right now. But it’s been talked about, because there’s a lot of joke opportunities to be made there.”
The writing process at the Every Three Weekly begins with a meeting between the writers and editors where they pitch concepts for articles.
“We all just bring ideas to the table,” said Flanagan, describing the writing process. “We all listen to each other’s ideas, and we all vote on which ones are good.”
Verbally pitching ideas is essential in to determine which ideas seem to work the best.
“It’s just which one gets the most laughs,” Flanagan said. A week later, the writers and editors meet to edit the articles. The paper does not publish every article the writers present to them, both due to the paper’s insistence on quality and the physical limitations of the newspaper format.
“I’ve submitted two (articles),” said Flanagan. “I feel like both of them have an OK shot of getting in the paper.”
Any given issue of the Every Three Weekly brings a variety of laughter, from the “Oh yeah, that’s something silly that I can relate to,” chuckle to the “I can’t believe I just read that!” guffaw. Topics range from personal relationships and fraternity antics to serious social issues such as Ebola and the Keystone XL pipeline. Given the publication’s predilection for subversive humor and controversial topics, one might wonder if there are any topics the Every Three Weekly won’t write about. The answer is yes.
“We’ll never approach rape jokes, under any circumstances,” Michels said.
But humor based on race and political issues is fair game, with a condition.
“We try to always make sure that the joke is pointed at the system of oppression and not the victims of oppression,” Michels said.
A recent example of that tenet is the article “Unarmed white teen gets brutally slapped on wrist,” which was written in response to the Michael Brown shooting and subsequent controversy.
“We wanted to make a joke on something as newsworthy as these murders,” said Michels, “but we knew that under no circumstances could we alienate the victims. So instead we pointed the joke at this oppressive system and the controversy surrounding it.”
By setting up a fictional scenario and writing about it in a mock-outraged tone, the Every Three Weekly managed to use humor to deliver their commentary on a tragic, controversial event and draw attention to the absurdity of the situation. The publication is dedicated to insightful political commentary in addition to laughs.
Not everybody appreciates the joke, however, which has led to moments of controversy for the publication throughout the years. In 2005, the paper published article titled “Phelps to major in pussy,” which led to an associate athletic director appealing to the University Activities Center executive board to limit the newspaper’s funding. Briarwood Mall took objection to the paper when it accidentally referenced the mall by name in an article about a pedophilic Santa, titled “Mall Santa tells child exactly what he wants for Christmas.” The paper was repeatedly protected from censorship by various Supreme Court precedents and University initiatives.
While satire can be protected on paper and through laws, there are some things that cannot be protected against, as made terrifyingly plain after the Charlie Hebdo attack in France. As proponents and practitioners of satire, the Every Three Weekly staffers were shocked and saddened.
“In our meetings, we’re constantly laughing,” Michels said. “We’re constantly joking about things that, honestly, we shouldn’t be joking about. In all of our discussions about Charlie Hebdo, there wasn’t the usual joviality.”
However, this did not slow the paper down, and they committed themselves to paying tribute to the victims of the attack through humor. The result was an infographic titled “How satirical newspapers are dealing with the Charlie Hebdo tragedy.” The infographic perfectly captures the paper’s perfect mixture of humor, social commentary and sense of morals.
The Every Three Weekly’s agenda is not a political one, but a populist one, seeking to reflect the opinions of the student body and show there is someone out there who understands their concerns, while the University administration may not. One of the paper’s most notable achievements in that regard occurred beyond the scope of the newspaper format.
“We created a fictional candidate to run in the CSG elections,” Michels said. “He won. He could not be installed in the student government because he didn’t exist, but we created a little bit of a wave there.”
The candidate for the 2011 elections was Karlos Marks, with Joseph Stallone as a running mate. Even though the fictional candidate couldn’t be installed, students saw Karlos Marks as a symbol of their dissatisfaction with the student government, and the numerous votes for him were a clear statement of that. Moreover, the student support of Karlos Marks illustrated the Every Three Weekly’s ability to establish a meaningful connection with University students through its combination of laughs and truth.
Above all else, the Every Three Weekly represents the idea that humor can be a very valuable aspect of life.
“My favorite thing that humor does is allow us to take a second look at the things that surround us, the choices we make, the ways that we act and the cultures we participate in,” Michels said. “We can take a second look in a way that doesn’t startle or offend. It’s a humorous look, and we can challenge ourselves and challenge the way we perceive things, all while sharing this humor that we can all really relate to.”
Sharing his perspective on the topic, Flanagan described the experience of seeing ComCo perform in Angell Hall.
“They filled one of the Angell Hall rooms, and they were charging admission, too,” Flanagan said. “College students on a budget, who could do anything else on a Friday night, decided to go to ComCo. So clearly, University of Michigan students value humor.”
“And there are so many different forms of it,” Flanagan continued. “The Every Three Weekly and ComCo are completely different types of humor. But you go to the source that you find to fit yourself better, so we’re filling that void if you will.”
It is true that there are many humor-based organizations throughout the University, each with its own style. While one person may prefer the structure of the Every Three Weekly, another may be taken by the rapid-fire unpredictability of ComCo, the inspired weirdness of the Gargoyle or the straightforward jokes of the LOL ROFL Comedy Club. Whatever a student may prefer, the Every Three Weekly exists to provide its unique version of humor, and the writers’ dedication to their craft has ensured that they will remain an institution for as long as University students want a laugh.
Nobody can predict the Every Three Weekly’s next move, what subjects it will tackle and what new formats it will explore. But there is one thing people can be sure of: sometime within the next three weeks, another issue of the Every Three Weekly will be completed, rife with fake news and laughter, and the staffers will once again set out into the Diag to try and get the paper in as many hands as possible.
“We figured just being in people’s faces, being loud and aggravating is the best way to do that,” Michels said with a smile.