“Scientists Discover Cure for COVID-19 beneath Denver International Airport.”
Given all the conspiracy theories that have taken off at Denver International Airport over the last three decades, as well as the unsolved mysteries about the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, that headline could be real. After all, truth is definitely stranger than fiction these days.
But no, that piece by Jeff Stonic was just the latest truly fake-news offering posted early May 11 on westishnews.com, the website for Westish: Denver News. Satirized.
The site was launched on May 1 by Hannah Jones, a full-time Denver barista and standup comic until the COVID-19 shutdown turned the barista gig part-time and canceled comedy gigs entirely. “Comedy is something I used to spend a lot of time on, and all of a sudden it vanished,” she explains. “The task of building a website is complicated and never-ending, so it was a perfect fit.”
But she didn’t expect the wave of excitement and flood of submissions that the debut of Westish produced from people like Stonic, a Denver comic with a background in improv. So Jones is now aided in her efforts by editor Cody Ullrich, another standup comic who’s had to stand down in the wake of the pandemic; and editor/marketing director Meghan DePonceau, who’d opened Wide Right, a comedy venue in the Ballpark neighborhood that won our Best Comedy Club With Wings right before the stage closed for the foreseeable future.
And the unforeseeable future, too.
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Humor helps brighten some of that gloomy uncertainty. “For me and a lot of other comics,” Jones explains, “it’s so much a habit to look at the lighter side of everything. Obviously, we’re acknowledging the significance and the importance and the tragedy, but also joking about it. ... If you couldn’t hold both of those in your brain, you’d go insane.”
Before she started Westish, Jones would post “little satire stuff on my personal website,” she says. “On a really good day, I’d get a hundred views. Now we’re getting thousands.”
As people read those stories, and then start sharing them around the web, is she concerned that satire may no longer be recognized as satire, but considered a real news story? “We’re always talking about how to make sure that doesn’t happen,” responds Jones. “That’s why we’re super-local. Silly and local.”
But she’s not silly about the business: She wants to be fair with contributors, paying them for their work. “The main reason that Denver comedy is great is because our shows are paid way more frequently than in other cities,” she says. And if it helps with the comedy scene, it should help with comedy publications, too.
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Because of limited funds, Jones says she’s had to be “surprisingly selective” about what she publishes, but she’s already working to change that by raising money to keep Westish going. “There are T-shirts on our website, and there’s a funding link,” she points out. And there’s certain to be plenty to mock in Denver once the pandemic plays out...all in good fun, of course.
“The name is something that doesn’t sound newspapery at all, the logo doesn’t model after a newspaper at all,” Jones notes. “We make it as clear as much as possible that it’s an art source, not a news source.”
And about that name: Any local inspiration for West....ish?
“I can neither confirm nor deny,” says Jones.