The creator and writer of the Mennonite satirical website The Daily Bonnet admits it sounds like fake news that he’s been invited to participate on a Nigerian-based panel on the role and relevance of satire.
But despite the long history of fraudsters soliciting help for an imprisoned Nigerian prince, teacher and author Andrew Unger says his latest gig is no scam.
"That’s the association people have with Nigeria, but this is legit," Unger says of his appearance on a three-person online panel discussion organized by the Nigerian satire site Punocracy.
As the only panelist from outside of Nigeria, Unger recorded and submitted his 24-minute talk to accommodate the seven-hour time difference. The 90-minute panel discussion is scheduled for 2 p.m. Monday, Nov. 9, the day proclaimed by Punocracy as World Satire Day.
The first challenge for the Steinbach resident was explaining Mennonites and The Daily Bonnet to people who may not be familiar with either.
"How much can I talk about The Daily Bonnet because I don’t want to spend the whole time explaining what a Mennonite is?" he says about providing context for his humour.
Turns out, context is everything in satire, which is why it may be funny to Manitobans to read Unger’s story headlined Golden Boy tests positive for Covid, referring to the recent government restrictions to slow the transmission of the novel coronavirus. Unger fake quotes Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister as blaming the iconic statue perched on top of the Manitoba legislature for his own fate.
"You’re not going to get every joke on a website," explains the author of the recently released novel Once Removed.
Well-known in Mennonite circles for The Daily Bonnet, which has more than 11 million hits since launching in May 2016, Unger doesn’t kid himself that his celebrity travelled to the African continent.
"I don’t think I’m actually famous in Nigeria," he says.
"I can imagine people will go to the seminar and then to my website and not understand a single thing on it."
Not true, says investigative journalist ‘Kunle Adebajo, founder and editor-in-chief of Punocracy, who originally stumbled across The Daily Bonnet a couple of years ago while researching satirical websites and then was reintroduced when a colleague discovered Unger’s online curriculum on teaching satire.
Although Adebajo doesn’t get all the nuances of the playful prods and pokes at Mennonite life and beliefs, he does resonate with some of the material.
"There is also a lot on the website (non-Mennonite content especially) that someone like me can effortlessly relate to, or which even give a humorous insight into life generally in Manitoba, Canada," he writes in an email exchange.
"Looks like people there like cats a lot."
Cat lovers or not, the satirist’s role remains constant in every society and culture by making fun of the powerful and protecting the vulnerable while calling attention to the ills of society, says Adebajo, adding that the right to satirize needs to be protected by people and their governments.
"A society where satire thrives is a society where people are tolerant of dissenting views and open to criticism, no matter how uncomfortable," he writes.
"A society where satire is appreciated also is one where the people are capable of critical thinking and able to interpret words from various perspectives, not just reflexively or linearly."
Cue Unger’s recent rant on the definition of the word "mandatory" where he takes a shot at grocery shoppers ignoring a sign stating masks are required inside the store. The headline for the Saturday, Oct. 31 story reads: Webster’s Dictionary Redefines ‘Mandatory’ as ‘Like Totally Optional, Whatever Man.’
That skill of combining lightheartedness with a sharp truthful edge allows Unger to get away with critiques of his hometown and religious practices and customs on The Daily Bonnet, self-described as a "trusted source for Mennonite satire."
And after Monday’s panel, which he regrets he can’t attend in person, it is likely Unger will get some comedic mileage out of his new readers in Nigeria.
"It’s neat and sort of surprising to make that connection around the globe," says Unger, who celebrates his 41st birthday on the day before World Satire Day.
Brenda Suderman has been a columnist in the Saturday paper since 2000, first writing about family entertainment, and about faith and religion since 2006.