I get to hell and there is a really long line to find out what my job will be during my eternal damnation. I'm very impatient, and this line is abnormally long. I finally get to the job assignor, and he tells me the worst news I've ever heard: I have to work as the editor of a counter-culture college newspaper. My staff consists of drunks and stoners who constantly miss deadlines and exhibit a general disregard for the quality of my publication... and my laptop crashes every night before the paper goes to print. -- Naked Chris, associate editor of The Weekly Hangover , describing his version of Hell in the March 23 issue
Speaking on the condition that I use their pen names, The Weekly Hangover 's editors agree to meet me at New Amsterdam on the Strip, where they conduct weekly budget meetings. I'm determined to reveal the truth behind this faction of inebriated kids posing as professional journalists by plunging deep into their wasted world. Are they really as drunk and irresponsible as they claim?
The bar is relatively empty save for the congregation in the back corner, which I assume is the staff. Choosing to remain inconspicuous, the editors have never printed a picture of anyone on the staff or their real names, leaving me to question precisely whom I'm meeting. I figure it appropriate to order a beer seeing as how I'm interviewing representatives of a journal that goes by the moniker Hangover , and then I walk around aimlessly.
Finally, a guy wearing a button-down, untucked oxford and flip-flops approaches. Moments later, he, associate editor Naked Chris, creative editor Will Morrissett (he reveals this is actually his name, adding that he is the lone staffer without an alter-ego) and layout designer Hillman Avenger join me at a table on the opposite end of the bar from their writers.
I later learn the guy I first met is editor in chief Ingu Lee. At first, he seems a bit leery as to why an established alt-weekly like the Pulse is intent on lending coverage to a two-year-old paper, which is distributed in its same market. With next to nothing in advertising revenue and a staff void of a single trained journalist, the fact that this paper is continuing to gain popularity outside the University of Tennessee campus community is a bit of phenomenon.
A similar venture to the nationally syndicated weekly The Onion , TWH thrives on parody and satire, although it does add its own college flavor of intoxicated banter and crude social commentary. And similar to The Onion 's beginnings, Ingu plans on achieving national reach by branching out to other college campuses. With Naked Chris leaving Knoxville for the East Coast after graduation next month and Morrissett heading to Middle Tennessee soon after, Ingu is confident they can establish TWH bureaus, while he mans the headquarters here at UT.
The group is obviously more than two beers ahead of me, and before I can ask my first question, Hillman begins to tell me why he's the Avenger. "The Avenger is actually a car," he says, which sends Naked Chris into a rant about seeing an old-school Aston Martin the other day and how sweet it was and....
I walked in the bathroom to brush my teeth because I believed a small rodent may have defecated into my open mouth as I slept soundly. When I stepped into the bathroom, a message was scrawled on the mirror in soap: I'm not having any adventures yet...I had to give it to myself--I made one hell of a point. When I was a kid I expected to be flying fighter jets, putting out forest fires, and exploring the South Pacific on my very own schooner. Yet here I am in Tennessee, 22 years old, watching basic cable, and cooking spaghetti three nights a week. -- Will Morrissett in the March 23 issue
A counter-culture newspaper might be the best and perhaps only way to describe TWH . Despite its tabloid layout and arts-and-entertainment lean, calling it an alternative weekly in the same vein as Metro Pulse wouldn't do it justice after meeting the four guys who are responsible for publishing this beacon of immorality every week.
TWH printed its first issue in the spring of 2005, and it has been circulating on the UT campus and in a sprinkling of bars around Knoxville ever since. Each week it proclaims to be "News for the Morning After," offering a calendar that has the daily specials of several bars and guides for the novice drunk. The staff interviews local bartenders, asking them questions such as, "Favorite sex position?" to which the bartender promptly replies, "Don't have time to list all 69 of them." There are CD reviews of artists ranging from Modest Mouse to Thes One, and alcohoroscopes are written for every issue. Readers can send in their best party pictures, which if selected will run in the back of each issue. My favorite pic is printed every week, depicting two girls wearing underwear and shirts painted on with shaving cream. They are standing in their bathtub and appear to be lost in the middle of some vast ocean, searching for land.
TWH does tackle pertinent issues, though. Two weeks ago, a writer unearthed some of the unpublicized side effects of sleep aids, Ambien and Lunesta, in a health and society column. For instance, one could suffer from sleep goose-stepping, a well-known side effect causing one to walk like a Nazi and perhaps "pull a hamstring" or "get your ass beat by Gypsies," or sleep erectile dysfunction, which produces an "unprecedented rise in crying after dream sex." The staff even ascertained the little-known fact that Aaron Burr Jr., the third vice president of the United States, invented the high-five.
In the early days, TWH was nothing more than a bar guide with a news hole where college-aged writers could one-up each other on their latest drunken escapades. The paper might not have appeared brash to a typical college student, but it pushed values and journalistic integrity to a limit not reached by any other mainstream or alternative medium in Knoxville. The writers dropped the F-bomb with little to no apprehension, and a word that can't be reprinted here but describes a part of the female anatomy was often thrown in for dramatic effect.
The original group of writers was mostly out-of-towners, guys Ingu knew from Illinois, Indiana and Los Angeles. Ingu spent an entire Christmas break learning the production program InDesign, and he scraped and scrambled to put out the first issue.
"The reason it looks like Metro Pulse is because I was just learning InDesign and we were going to mimic it and just got lazy," says Ingu, referring to the paper's circular graphics in the middle of each story. "I had this great idea for a paper, but no one ever takes the next step, so I bought the book and we did it."
After Naked Chris saw the first issue, he contacted the paper immediately. "I saw that very first issue that came out and I said, 'This is the coolest thing I've ever seen.' We were throwing a party that night at my house, and I hit them up with an e-mail, 'Yo, you guys know how to party so why don't you come and check out how we throw down. Two weeks later I was at a writer's meeting. I started writing, and then I took over as editor, and then I learned how to edit."
Morrissett joined not long after and the trio began the paper's evolution into something with more substance, without compromising trademark edge. "When we started this thing, we just wanted it to be funny. But it had no direction," Naked Chris says. "We needed to get serious if we were going to keep doing it, because no one was turning in articles on time and just being a terrible staff."
When I ask if anyone is majoring in journalism, they glance at one another and then proceed to laugh in unison. Naked Chris is the only editor that attends UT, and he does admit to having a minor in journalism with a major in political science. Ingu "has no real day job," Morrissett graduated last may from UT with a degree in finance but decided he "couldn't handle a desk job," and Hillman is a recent graduate of East Tennessee State, where he learned graphic design.
Like most weekly papers in Knoxville, TWH is free. The quartet barely breaks even with the money they make off five ads and what little they glean from the bar guide. They can't afford to pay their 10 writers, other than giving them free beer at budget meetings. (The owner of New Amsterdam says he wishes there were more papers in Knoxville like TWH, and that he gives them a place to hold meetings and comps them a "few" drinks. By the end of the night, the five of us have had in the neighborhood of 20 beers and a round of whiskey shots without money exchanging hands.)
A major conflict for the paper currently is landing corporate ads, which is often hard to do when printing headlines that read "Anna Nicole Smith still dead, fat."
"We're on about the same level of popularity as the Beacon [the UT student newspaper]. Of course, it's not hard to be as popular as those guys," Ingu says. "But we have to see corporate Mr. Jimmy John's and prove this is marketable."
"There is a thin line between selling out and doing your own thing, and when it comes to that line, we'll be ourselves and let people accept us or not accept us," Naked Chris says.
But despite the lack of monetary reward, Naked Chris dubs this current group his au fait staff. "I'm surprised we have as many good writers as we do. I think money is a big part, because we can't put an ad on Craig's List saying we'll pay you. We put out ads like, 'You dig our shit, think you can hang, come join the ranks,'" he says. "We went through periods where people didn't give a fuck, and it was completely masturbatory.
"Now, they see the vision that we all see, that this thing is fucking hilarious. That the kid with the green Mohawk and the sorority girl right behind him are both going to take our paper and laugh at it. Somehow, we completely embody the college attitude."
Each meeting begins with a round-table discussion, something along the lines of which Evil Dead was the best or what Transformer was the baddest. Then, writers pitch stories and from those ideas the staff produces articles like the one Morrissett wrote on the passing of Robert Adler, who invented the TV remote. Or the one in which John the Caveman professed that all elderly 65 and older should be entered into Gulags because "you've lived free long enough."
Naked Chris does instill rules for his writers to follow. When tackling a political issue, writers must lampoon both parties. And he banned the use of racial slurs or references to rape, unless it's a "roofie-colada-frat-boy joke."
"We are most motivated by our lack of direction and are influenced by our lack of direction," Morrissett says.
Every Friday, on the corner of Volunteer Boulevard East and Andy Holt Avenue, TWH staffers congregate to personally hand out papers during UT class changes. On the Friday morning after Spring Break, Naked Chris is standing with arms wide and stacks in each hand. I notice he has "LOVE" tattooed in old-English letters on the back of one arm and a corresponding "LIFE" on the other. He's wearing a Detroit Pistons Grant Hill jersey--I call it a throwback, but he just calls it "old"--and there's a boombox behind him blaring hip hop. His camouflage shorts clash with his blue jersey and his multi-colored Nike high tops. But as he and Ingu exchange stories from the previous night--"Man, I woke up and my girl had painted my toe nails while I was passed out drunk"--I figure matching attire wasn't on the morning agenda.
TWH prints 5,000 copies each week, and is rarely left with more than 100 copies after dropping them off at bars like Cool Beans and Patrick Sullivan's. UT officials have attempted to keep the staff from distributing papers on campus sidewalks, but Ingu says the police told the staff they were on public property and could stay.
Ron Laffitte, associate dean of students at UT, says he has no comment on the publication itself, though he is aware of it and does contend they are violating university policy.
"We support our policy that people must go through the university and have something signed by the university before they can just hand things out on campus," Laffitte says. "Not just anyone can give out whatever they want on campus.
"Any group that doesn't follow the policy of the university, we are aware of that and they should get sponsorship from a student group. I actually saw their stuff out there today (last Friday), and they had cut strings and left trash around."
Nonetheless, the staff hasn't missed a Friday when school was in session for the last two years.
"The best part of our distribution is we don't just leave stacks. We could say we print 50,000 a week but that doesn't mean 50,000 people read them, which I think is key because every one we print we know is going into the hands of someone," Ingu says.
The Hangover transplant on other campuses will soon be underway. Naked Chris is returning to his native Washington, D.C., and the suburbs of Maryland and Virginia where he plans to start branches, while Morrissett is attempting to find a market at Middle Tennessee State.
"I think we're real small here in Knoxville, but I don't think our audience is just Knoxville. Knoxville Voice is just Knoxville. If Metro Pulse wanted to do something in any other city, there's already Metro Pulse s everywhere," Ingu says. "I think the motivation is to bring this kind of paper to every college campus. There's a market for it; the same groups of people will be reading and laughing, kind of the way collegehumor.com started."
Money has gone toward a website, which is currently under construction but should be up and running by summer (theweeklyhangover.com). The staff has moved into an office in North Knoxville--they won't tell me where.
As we stand and hand out papers, a T bus driver stops and calls out for them to bring her a copy. Professors and 60-year-old ladies grab papers off the piles, and earlier a FedEx driver jumped out of his van to grab one.
"This is what people want to hear. I look forward to it every Friday, because I love the way they attack sororities and fraternities," says Ashley Lochen, a UT freshman who is also in a sorority. "Basically, they just throw everything back in the campus's face."
All at the ripe old age of 22 or 23, the editors are not yet pragmatic about their business staying in the red. Although TWH has yet to turn a profit and despite the fact some may find their work to be a disservice to society, the editors find relevance in what they do, now more than ever.
"This world kind of sucks right now, there are some really shitty things going on, so let's all laugh at some jokes," Naked Chris says. "We are doing this based on the merit that one day it will pay off, but that will not get in the way of making these kids laugh. If it weren't for the fact I'd starve and wouldn't have a place to live, I'd write these forever for free. Right now, it's cool because money messes things up, and when there isn't any money, you can't mess it up."