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Newspapers, Puppets and Pranks: Badgers Share Love for the UW and a Good Laugh

A unique sense of humor is a trademark of being a Badger. So it’s no surprise that the founding editor of The Onion and the co-creator of “Mystery Science Theatre 3000” are both UW-Madison alumni.

Wendy Krause Hathaway '04
September 24, 2014

Scott Dikkers x’87 and Jim Mallon ’79 shared some serious laughs — and some serious advice — with Badger families on Sept. 19 at a Parents’ Weekend keynote panel titled “Our Funny University: Finding Your Calling by Following Your Passion.” The panel was hosted by fellow alumnus and longtime Madison resident Andy Moore ’87, who was on campus around the same time when Dikkers was working to get his now-treasured satirical publication off the ground.

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Scott Dikkers with host Andy Moore

Generations of Wisconsin graduates have taken what they learned at UW-Madison, in and out of the classroom, to forge successful careers in the media, including many notable Badgers in the field of comedy: Steve Levitan ’84, Emmy-winning creator of “Modern Family,” as well as Jim Abrahams x’66, and David ’70 and Jerry ’72 Zucker of the films “Airplane” and “Naked Gun.”

Many of the original Onion staffers originally worked for the Daily Cardinal, such as the executive producer of “The Daily Show,” Ben Karlin ’93, who was a Cardinal cartoonist. “We were misfits,” Dikkers recalls. “It was like a band. Everybody brought their own talent to it.”

When asked to name one or two professors or classes that inspired him, Dikkers admits he didn’t make it to many classes, but says learning the fundamentals of journalism were crucial to his later success with The Onion.

“Little did I know I was learning those rules so I could later violate every single one of them,” he laughed.

Mallon worked for nearly a decade as the producer, director and puppeteer for the Emmy-nominated, Peabody Award-winning “Mystery Science Theater 3000.”

But many alumni are more familiar with the mark he made on the UW campus in the late 1970s as the leader of the tongue-in-cheek Pail and Shovel Party. The student-government group’s more notable pranks include fulfilling a campaign promise to bring the Statue of Liberty to Madison by constructing a replica on Lake Mendota, and spending all night planting exactly 1,006 pink plastic flamingo lawn ornaments on Bascom Hill.

Mallon credits the 1960s student activists who came before him for paving the way toward a less serious culture on campus and more tolerance from Bascom Hall. “They did all the heavy lifting,” he says. “We got to take advantage of their hard work.”

He also credits his internship at WHA-TV in Vilas Hall for helping him to develop not only his technical skills, but also his character. “These are people who care about what they do,” he says. “While I learned the craft, I also learned a strong work ethic, and I took that with me.”

September 1927 Cover. Image Courtesy UW-Madison Archives, UW-Madison Libraries Special Collection.

University of Wisconsin library seeks campus humor artifacts

Staffers at the UW-Madison Archives are asking alumni to check their attics, basements and closets for any campus-humor-related memorabilia they might have stashed away. The UW Library is missing quite a few issues of publications like "The Onion" and, dating much farther back, humor magazines "The Sphinx" and "The Octopus." Read more about the UW's Special Collections Department and how to donate your artifacts for preservation at theisthmus.com.

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