July 8, 2008

The Naked Loon Pokes Online Fun at Seattle

By Noelene Clark, Seattle Times

Jul. 8--If you're a germophobe, a naked cyclist or a burned-out dot-commer, you're on The Naked Loon target list.

Prepare to be mocked.

Tim Ellis, a Kenmore Internet entrepreneur, brainstormed his travesty hit list of people, places and stereotypes before launching his online satirical newspaper The Naked Loon. Think The Onion, but hyper-local and less crude.

"People are most amused by things that are familiar," said Ellis, 28.

Since its start on April Fools' Day, The Loon has published a point-counterpoint between Puget Sound billionaires Paul Allen and Bill Gates, a how-to for riding Metro buses "as easy as 1, 37, 12!" and a news story about Sonics owner Clay Bennett's "trademark scowl" -- all fake, of course.

Even the title has a local bent; loons are native to Washington.

Ellis, who quit his job as an electrical engineer in January to work full time on Internet ventures, relies on his other Web site to pay the bills. He runs Seattle Bubble, a real-estate blog that draws 3,000 visitors a day. The Loon attracts about 500 readers daily, Ellis said, but readership is steadily growing.

He posts something new every day. He also publishes a version called The Censored Loon, in case your Net Nanny balks at the word "naked."

The Loon is a continuation of pranks Ellis and his friends pulled while they were students at Seattle Pacific University. Under the name Department of Underground Information, they created a parody of the university's Web site, produced a spoof newspaper and sent out silly e-mails that looked like they were from school officials.

J.R. Willett, a Seattle Pacific alum and software engineer from Mountlake Terrace, recalls that he and Ellis persuaded an entire Greek-literature class to show up wearing togas, by sending out an e-mail that looked as though it was from the professor.

Willett is among a small group of people Ellis turns to for ideas and feedback for The Loon.

"We have conversations and think, 'This is really funny. We should share this with more people,' " Ellis said. "We just like to make people laugh."

The Web site boasts it is "an equal-opportunity mockumenter" with a lighthearted take on Seattle.

"Like Fremont -- just by itself, we came up with a dozen ideas making fun of that neighborhood," Willett said. "Any neighborhood has its quirks and idiosyncrasies and stereotypes that you can poke fun at."

Occasionally, Ellis said, readers don't realize the site is a lampoon.

People posted frustrated and angry comments when The Loon published "Google: Street View Not Coming to Seattle, So There," along with a list of cities smaller than Seattle for which Google Maps has provided the panoramic street-level view feature.

And after Seattleites protested in vain to save the landmark Ballard Denny's building from demolition, The Loon ran the story "Empty Kenmore Denny's Still Standing, Nobody Cares." Ellis fake-quoted Kenmore Mayor David Baker, who later posted a comment saying, "Yes we do care!" and explaining plans for the building.

Baker learned from The Seattle Times that The Loon is satire.

"I guess the joke is on me, then," he said. "It did seem quite funny and weird."

Now that he's in on the joke, Baker said he wouldn't be upset if he were fake-quoted again.

"It doesn't bother me at all," he said. "Hey, and my name got in the paper, right?"

Noelene Clark: 206-464-2321 or [email protected]

To find The Naked Loon:

The Naked Loon: http://nakedloon.com

The Censored Loon: http://censoredloon.com


To see more of The Seattle Times, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.seattletimes.com.

Copyright (c) 2008, Seattle Times

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

For reprints, email [email protected], call 800-374-7985 or 847-635-6550, send a fax to 847-635-6968, or write to The Permissions Group Inc., 1247 Milwaukee Ave., Suite 303, Glenview, IL 60025, USA.