Farewell, Wonkette (2006-2012)

bye wonketteIs it weird to you that Andrew Breitbart and Wonkette both died in the same week?

They were both misunderstood by their foes, and were apparently super awesome geniuses to the people who actually knew them.

I never met Breitbart, but I am very good friends with Ken Layne who sold Wonkette yesterday and stepped down from being its Editor and Guiding Light.

I’m such good friends we only talk once every other year. And then it’s only to exchange all-knowing glances.

They say Breitbart was an Internet pioneer for helping to launch Drudge and Huffington Post. He definitely deserves props for inspiring Matt Drudge to leave this hauntingly romantic obit this week on his famous page, “I don’t think there was a single day during that time when we did not flash each other or laugh with each other, or challenge each other. I still see him in my mind’s eye in Venice Beach, the sunny day I met him. He was in his mid 20′s. It was all there. ”

Originally I became friends with Layne through marriage, not choice. He hustled my actual friends when they were in Prague trying to avoid the inevitable: life. They were succeeding until they stumbled into the company of the tall San Diegan country punk singer and cigarette-smoker.

Like any Libra, he was in the Republic for the women and the fifty cent beer.

Something happened though when he returned to the States in 1994 and moved in to the Haight Street victorian that I happened to also be squatting in. Al Gore had just invented the Internet and our household busied itself with making web sites. Across town Marc Brown had launched the webzine Buzznet which would turn into the photo sharing site Buzznet and eventually turn into whatever that hugely profitable thing is they now call BuzzMedia.

Inside 591 Haight Street while I was laying down the framework to what is now the busblog, Layne was writing about Sadaam Huessien’s rape-happy sons, and a bearded Saudi named Osama Bin Laden. No one else was. Anywhere. There was no anywhere. Even the NYT.com at that point was barely a bulletin board. Ken, however, wrote about it all maniacally in the middle of the night on a site he called Tabloid.

Most of you are probably too young to remember when the Internet didn’t have very much on it, but back in those days Yahoo asked you to help it fill its directories. As a joke I listed tonypierce.com as porn, which is one reason you still can’t read this site behind most corporate firewalls. Ha!

Layne’s jokes were better. And in the black-and-white tv days of the web, Tabloid, with its radio tower beacon logo, quietly sent an S-O-S to the world that this www-thing was going to be a tad more dark and dangerous than we were expecting.

Did Tabloid (and SF’s Suck) inspire what is now Gawker? Duh. In fact Gawker’s Nick Denton and Layne worked together on the Tabloid sequel, Sploid, and when Denton decided to pull the plug the two men remained friends and Layne became the West Coast editor of Wonkette or the Weekend Editor or something who knows who cares — the point is Denton didnt totally hate Layne or vice versa because they were both weird and enjoyed snark and outrage and the intertubes.

At some point Denton had one of his famous fire sales and decided to unload the peerless Wonkette, the political blog that clearly inspired the Daily Show. The year was 2008 and it appeared that a democratic black man was poised to run against a ticket that included a feisty Alaskan woman. Why sell a political humor blog right before every joke was about to write itself? Because Denton is weird and hates money?

Because the Lord loves Ken Layne, he ended up Wonkette’s publisher and Editor despite the fact that no one could figure out how he could afford it.

No matter. Mega blog babe Ana Marie Cox was long gone, but Wonkette under Layne’s leadership included mercilessly agressive satire that yeilded extremely high highs and a few wincingly low lows.

Indeed, this post, written by Jack Steuf, almost exactly a year ago, about Sarah Palin’s mentally disabled son’s birthday embodied both:

That strange man yelling unintelligibly at Sarah Palin? He’s merely a lowly shepherd proclaiming the birth of our savior. Today is the day we come together to celebrate the snowbilly grifter’s magical journey from Texas to Alaska to deliver to the America the great gentleman scholar Trig Palin. Is Palin his true mother? Or was Bristol? (And why is it that nobody questions who the father is? Because, either way, Todd definitely did it.) It doesn’t matter. What matters is that we are privileged to live in a time when we can witness the greatest prop in world political history. […]

“Why just celebrate tax day today, April 18th? It’s also Trig Paxson Van Palin’s 3rd birthday. His mom went to a lot of trouble to leak amniotic fluid over 8 states to make sure that he arrived in this world somewhat alive,” writes Wonkette operative “Barbara_i,” reminding us of the occasion. “Sarah went to a whole lot of trouble to name him ‘Van Palin,’ a ‘Van Halen’ reference he will never get.” Indeed.

Enjoy yourself today, Trig. Have fun! Get drunk (on purpose this time)! We can hardly wait for 15 years from now, when you will finally be able to vote and will be sent off by your mother’s junta to fight the Union in the Great Alaska War. It’ll be quite a loss. You’re the smartest one in that family.

It was a high because literally the entire Internet was talking about it. It was a low because, even the web draws the line at making fun of mentally disabled kids (never mind the comments on Youtube and FoxNews.com). Palin’s people, fresh from rallying against CBS for jokes David Letterman made on the former governor, successfully persuaded several advertisers from placing ads on Wonkette and somewhere along the way Layne removed the post and apologized:

A post on this page satirizing Sarah Palin using her baby as a political prop was very badly done and sounded like the author was mocking the child and not just Sarah Palin/Sarah Palin’s followers.

The writer, Jack Stuef, has apologized for it. And we have decided to remove the post as requested by some people who have nothing to do with Sarah Palin, but who do have an interest in the cause of special needs children. We apologize for the poor comedic judgment.

Layne, like most creative people, seemed to have become bored of the grind of covering politics online. I wouldn’t know first hand because we don’t talk. Why would we? Who wouldn’t be exhausted making fun of the clown car of politics day after day year after year? On the web. Nowadays.

Great writers and editors on the web are a dime a dozen. But great blogs are rare. Wonkette under Layne was old school blogging– a disdain for SEO, a commitment to creativity, and one simple rule: be funny.

LOLs are not a dime a dozen. They’re as hard to earn honorably as pageviews. And to attempt to get both every day year after year is something no one has been able to do for very long without losing their minds.

We need Layne’s mind for a little longer, which is why I’m glad he gave up the ghost.

Good luck, new nice lady who took over.

And good luck Ken.

Denton should give you Gawker.


top illustration by Matthew Green