Early in February, the satirical news publication The Onion published a story about Elon Musk, titled, “Elon Musk Offering $1.2 Billion in Grants to Any Project That Promises to Make Him Feel Complete.”
But what seemed like a fairly standard joke about the vapidity of ambition and wealth had an Easter egg of truth.
Several former top staffers and writers of The Onion are now working on a secret project financially backed by Musk, The Daily Beast can confirm.
Former Onion Editor in Chief Cole Bolton and Executive Editor Ben Berkley left the publication last year due to differences with the company’s management. Since then, the two have been in Los Angeles working on the Musk project, and they recently poached three of the site’s writers and a longtime editor to join them, sources confirmed.
“We can confirm that we have learned nothing from prevailing trends in media and are launching a brand-new comedy project,” Bolton and Berkley said in a statement to The Daily Beast. It’s unclear, however, what exact project the team is building.
Bolton and Berkley kept many of their former colleagues and friends in the dark, said sources—several of whom speculated the project will likely be another written satirical-news property or website. Multiple sources familiar with the project emphasized that Musk would not have editorial oversight of the project, and that he is not involved in its day-to-day operations.
Asked about his involvement, Musk, in a cheeky statement to The Daily Beast, confirmed his interest in comedy.
“It’s pretty obvious that comedy is the next frontier after electric vehicles, space exploration, and brain-computer interfaces,” Musk said. “Don’t know how anyone’s not seeing this.”
This isn’t the first time the cosmic-obsessed billionaire expressed interest in adding satire to his portfolio.
Before Univision bought The Onion and its sister sites A.V. Club and Clickhole in 2016, Musk considered buying The Onion in 2014, a source confirmed to The Daily Beast.
Though he got to know Bolton and Berkley, discussions never got far, another source said, potentially because Musk wasn’t interested in the outlet’s entertainment news site The A.V. Club.
Musk has also had personal relationships with Onion staffers for years, sharing favorite stories on social media, emailing writers and editors about jokes he enjoys, and occasionally invoking the publication to troll critics.
In an interview with Rolling Stone last year, Musk mused about the nature of truth while thumbing through a copy of The Onion.
“In order to understand the essential truth of things,” he theorized, “I think you can find it in The Onion and occasionally on Reddit.”
—With additional reporting by Noah Shachtman.