- Name: Peter Koechley
- Age: 23
- Neighborhood: Prospect Heights, Brooklyn
- Originally from: Madison, WI
- Number of years in New York: Five
- Profession: Staff Writer, The Onion
The Essay Questions
You started your own humor newspapers at ages 13 and 15 and began writing headlines for The Onion at 17. Where did this early interest in comedy and writing come from?
In Madison, WI, news comedy was just in the water. I picked up my first copy of The Onion in about fifth grade, but I'd heard of it even before then. All the cool kids who couldn't play bass guitar and who loved copyediting just kinda gravitated towards parody journalism. It definitely wasn't just me. The Yellow Press, my independent monthly high school satirical newspaper, had a staff of almost 30. Just one of those regional things, I guess. In New York, kids start doing heroin at 15. In Madison, kids write news jokes. Personally, I started trying to be funny when I was in second grade in order to win the young heart of a girl named Jenny, a goal I dedicated years of my life to but never achieved.
What's it like around the office, especially being the paper's only writer under 30?
Going to the office is like going to Disneyland, except there's a lot more depressed people with migraines and a lot more work to do, and no rides. But we do all wear zany costumes all the time—that much is similar. I'm the youngest writer, but my sense of humor is probably the oldest. For example, I'm the only one who understands how hilarious my headline "Centipede Doesn't Understand Why Wife Needs 2500 Shoes" is. But trust me, it is. The other writers put up a sign that says "10,000 strikes and Koechley's fired," and I still have about 9,000 more chances to pitch that joke before they can me.
You covered the Democratic Convention in June (as pictured above). What was that experience like?
Amazing. I was filled with hope and optimism. Not only that—it was a great opportunity for me to do some of our trademark Onion hard-hitting journalism near the most important people in the country's second-most influential political party.
You’ve kept a weekly blog that indicates which headlines and jokes you write in every issue of The Onion. Is it ever difficult writing for a publication that, while hugely respected in the comedy community, never gives you any recognition of your own?
Nope. The Onion is a monolithic, faceless, soulless news organization. I am but a cog in the machine, and that's the way it ought to be. To be honest, I'm more surprised that the A.P. attributes articles than that we don't.
Comedians and comedy writers are notoriously some of toughest people to make laugh. These days, what people/TV shows/movies/publications crack you up?
I laugh at everything, but it's nearly impossible to make me giggle. I only recently discovered that there were other comedy sources besides the Onion, which was a truly devastating realization, but also quite exciting. Now, all I do is watch The Office, The Daily Show and The West Wing. But I've heard some really good things about Chappelle, Ali G, and the Simpsons, too. I'm planning on checking them out soon.
With some friends, you recently started Votergasm.org, a project intended to get people to the polls and in bed with each other. Tell us about it, why sex and politics are a good mix, and how you can get Gothamist laid on Election Night.
Votergasm.org is a youth campaign to increase voter turn-on. So far we've had 25,000 people across the country pledge to have sex with a voter on election night, and withhold sex from all non-voters. We looked at the statistics from 2000, saw the unacceptably low levels of youth voter turnout and youth sexual activity on Election Day, and vowed: Never again. Two weeks ago Rush Limbaugh condemned us one day, promoted us the next, and ranted confusedly when we accused him of flip-flopping on the third day. We're having an election-night party at the P.M. Lounge in the Meatpacking District. Anyone who wants to get laid on November 2nd should take the Votergasm pledge, vote, and then come to our party. You owe it to your country.
Favorite subway station?
Nevins St. on the 2/3 in Brooklyn, because it's such an easy transfer to the 4/5 and I get cell reception. Even when I'm not transferring, if I time it just right, I can send two text messages in the time it takes the train to stop and pick up passengers.
Quintessential New York song
Tie between "Brooklyn's Finest," by Jay-Z featuring Biggie, and "Respiration" by Mos Def/Talib Kweli, featuring Common.
Rudest obscenity yelled at you
"Cunt-butt crotch jockey!"
Rudest obscenity you've yelled at others
Funniest NY Post headline?
"Kerry Picks Gephardt As VP"
You get to be Bloomberg for a day. What do you change?
Add helpful display screens on subway platforms, saying, "The Q train will arrive in 4 minutes," just like every other civilized city in the world.
Worst noise to wake up to?
Your roommate being stabbed to death in the next room by someone who's listening to bad early-'90s techno on a cheap, tinny boombox, I presume.
Best place for a first date
Wohlman Rink in Central Park. I took a girl there my freshman year of college and I'm still in love with her to this day, even though we're not together anymore and she lives in Austin.
Best place for a break-up?
There are SO many AWESOME places for a break-up in town. There's no way I can pick just one.
Have you ever been mugged here? If so, what's the story?
I got "yolked" a couple weeks back, if I'm using that term correctly. This really big intimidating guy named Keith came up to me, acted like we were friends, told me how he'd just gotten out of jail for some violent crime and really didn't want to go back, and then asked me for $20. When I told him no, he got increasingly desperate until I caved in. I was a block from my house, on Flatbush and 7th Avenue, but I didn't want to reveal where I lived, so I just gave him some money. I felt violated. Then I talked to some other people from work and found out two other Onion writers had been yolked by Keith, to varying success. Turns out I was the biggest chump of the group.
Interview by C. Mason Wells