Whale, I Done Fucked Up

A link to something new, plus something from the archives

Google images result for “public domain whale cartoon”

Damn, Monday’s come and gone without a new original humor piece from this publication. I’ll be aiming to crank out various writings in the next days/weeks, but it just wasn’t coming together yet and time just kept on ticking.

For those of you “podheads” out there (people who love podcasts) there’s a new episode of Robert Orben’s Monday Joke Book, featuring Kiki O’Keeffe.

And for you “podheads” out there (people who love groups of whales) here’s something from the archives that I wrote back in the days when I was with The Onion. Once upon a time, a group of Onion writers known as Onion Digital Studios (I wasn’t with them at the time) created a whole bunch of really cool and unique web shows, like Sex House (it starts from straight up parody but gets weirder, darker, and more interesting as it goes - Jacobin magazine wrote a Marxist analysis of it), Porkin’ Across America, and Lake Dredge Appraisal (my favorite of the bunch, partly because of how aggressively unsexy it is).

One of the shows they scripted but never produced (I think it was created by Matt Klinman or Sam West (probably Klinman?), but don’t report that what I said is true because I don’t know if it is, but you can report that I think that because it is true that I think that, as long as you don’t report that I think it with confidence, but you can report with confidence that I think it without confidence) was called Who Killed Ventostro? and it was a satire of those speculative History Channel shows like Ancient Aliens where the narrators talk about something that maybe existed and then build intricate stories on these entirely imagined grounds. You’ll see how Ventostro works if you read it. I think the first one was about Jesus or something. Anyway I liked all those old ODS shows and I finally got a chance to pitch and write an episode that never got produced, and Onion if you ever want to produce Ventostro go ahead and do it and send me a cease and desist and I’ll take this right down.

Here is the draft in its draft form (it’s too long for video, but it’s nice and raggedy if that’s your style). It has been reformatted to fit your screen but otherwise unchanged.


Graphics: Historical blueprints of whaling ships, drawings of whales, harpoons.

NARRATOR: Whales... the gentle giants. But how giant could they have gotten? And are they truly gentle?

Footage: blurred, dark, or otherwise obscured images of whales swimming, jumping, feeding.

NARRATOR: We hear tell of killer whales, but are killer whales the only whales that kill? What other whales kill — and who? Could there have been a whale bigger than all other whales, and more violent? And if there was, who did he kill? Did he kill Ventostro? Who killed Ventostro?

Music and title graphic: “Who Killed Ventostro”

Footage: shadows of whales.

NARRATOR: Since the beginning of time, man has told stories of great whales. The Bible is full of them — The Leviathan, Jonah and the Whale, the whole book of Leviticus, which is named after and inspired by the Leviathan even though he doesn’t appear in the text. Even a poor un-Bibled fisherman knows how to tell of a story of a big fish — or, in scientific terms, a whale. But one story was different than the others.


BARRY HAUK, a [not “an”] historian, sits in an interview chair. As he talks, he demonstrates the size of whales with his hands.

Chyron: Barry Hauk, Professor of Ventostro

BARRY HAUK: No matter how big a whale is, it’s not the biggest whale because another whale is bigger. UNLESS it’s that one whale that another one isn’t bigger than.

NARRATOR: The whale that another whale wasn’t bigger than would be the biggest whale. But could it have existed?

Footage: a slow pan over a museum full of whales.

BARRY HAUK: It’s a real possibility. It would probably only be a few feet larger than the other extremely big whales, because the biggest whales tend to be very close to as big as each other, but are rarely exactly the same size.

Dramatic music plays over a montage of paintings of whales, and then... a painting of a man!

NARRATOR: If this whale really existed, why don’t we know about it? Could it have been because it killed the only person who ever saw it? And could that person have been none other than Ventostro?

BARRY HAUK: It’s very likely that the biggest whale in the history of the world would have killed Ventostro.

Several cuts in to a blurry fisherman in one of the paintings.

NARRATOR: If the whale killed Ventostro, they would have had to have been at the same place at the same time — but where was the whale? And where was Ventostro?

Scroll over maps of oceans.

BARRY HAUK: Off the coast of Massachusetts, in the middle of the 19th century, there were a lot of whales, a lot of whalers, and a lot of sailors.

Graphics: lists of sailing rolls, from logs of ships. We see that many are marked X.

BARRY HAUK: A lot of sailors were illiterate, and signed their name with an “X” One of these could easily have been Ventostro.

Barry pulls out an ink and quill, and parchment.

NARRATOR: Using the ink and quill at the time, and a parchment, Barry will re-create the process of Ventostro’s signature.

BARRY HAUK: Imagine I’m Ventostro — one of many foreign sailors who came to the ports of the American Northeast for work. I know how to say my name - Ventostro - but not how to write it.

He dips the ink in the quill, and signs “X.”

The camera compares that to some of the Xs signed on an old 1839 parchment.

NARRATOR: Could this have been Ventostro’s signature? Katherine Sandberg, a handwriting expert, analyzed the samples.

A handwriting analyst pores over the parchment

SANDBERG: These Xs are similar in style, but clearly written by different hands. This “X” in the newer sample has clear signs of someone used to forming different letters, less focused on “X” shape as such and more on its role in words.

NARRATOR: The results confirm Barry’s hypothesis: Ventostro was someone who signed in a similar style, but not exactly the same as him.

SANDBERG: Certainly, there’s nothing to indicate this older sample wasn’t created by someone named Ventostro.

Cut back to that same blurred fisherman.

NARRATOR Ventostro could have been a whaler — but the irony could have been, he might not even have been looking for whales when the largest whale could have killed him. He might have been simply fishing.

Footage: a fishing line in the water.

BARRY HAUK: Long sea voyages are dangerous and stressful. A sailor could take his sea skills and quit to become a fisherman, rowing out from shore and coming back by dinner time. If Ventostro was coming back for dinner, it’s likely he had a wife, who could have been named Dalphina. And Dalphina could have been mad at him, so he would be reluctant to go home, figuring he’d stay out a little longer to fish. What he didn’t count on was that there was something more dangerous than Dalphina out there in the sea — the biggest whale that ever existed.

NARRATOR: But if Ventostro wasn’t a whaler, why would the largest whale who ever existed kill him? The answer may lie, ironically, in a book about whaling.

Barry holds up an old copy of Moby-Dick: or, The Whale

BARRY HAUK: This is Moby-Dick, the greatest whale story ever written. But what’s even more remarkable is the story Herman Melville didn’t tell — and that might have been the story of Ventostro.

NARRATOR: If the story of Ventostro was so extraordinary, why didn’t Melville tell it? Was it because he didn’t know it? Or was he telling us the story without knowing he was telling it?

BARRY HAUK: Nobody ever found the original manuscript of Moby-Dick, but it’s possible that it contained a mention of “Vesillo,” who may have been a fictionalized version of Ventostro.

Barry writes “Vesillo” on a paper and crosses it out.

NARRATOR: Ventostro would have been a sailor on one of the whaling ships Melville was on, and who Melville later based the Vesillo character on before he cut the Vesillo character out. Did he cut Vesillo because he didn’t think he was interesting... or was it because he was too interesting?

BARRY HAUK: The whale in Moby-Dick is a sperm whale, but that’s not the biggest kind of whale. By not writing about the biggest whale, and also not writing about Ventostro, Melville could have been telling us that something interesting happened between Ventostro and the biggest whale.

Dramatic music swells. Footage: blowholes, blood.

BARRY HAUK: The classic interesting things to happen are sex and murders. Men and whales are too different in size and shape to have sex, and as a small lone fisherman, Ventostro could hardly have murdered a giant whale. That leaves one possibility — the whale murdering Ventostro.

NARRATOR: If the whale murdered Ventostro, how did it murder him? And why?

BARRY HAUK: Keep in mind this whale is a good two or three feet larger than even the biggest of the other whales that existed. It has a lot of ways to kill someone. Flip the boat, thrash him with the tail, breach the water and land on Ventostro, smash him against the rocks, create a whirlpool that spins around and sucks him under.

He gets up and starts walking around, relishing the moment.

BARRY HAUK: It could spray a lot of water with its blowhole that gets in Ventostro’s lungs and drowns him, lead a whole pack of whales to bluntly nudge him with their heads until he dies of trauma. Scrape him with the barnacles attached to its belly so that Ventostro bleeds to death. Toss him in the air again and again until he gets so scared he dies of a heart attack. Grab his fishing line, swim around him, tie him up and swim away with such force that the line slices Ventostro into pieces. But the whale would have no reason to do these things. A murder needs a motive. And the only reason for an animal that big to kill something as small as Ventostro — about 5 foot 7 — is to eat him.

NARRATOR: Did the whale eat Ventostro? And if so, how?

BARRY HAUK: Keep in mind we’re talking about the biggest whale that ever existed. No whale is bigger than a blue whale, so this whale would have had to be a blue whale. The only problem is, blue whales don’t eat people.

NARRATOR: But if blue whales don’t eat people, how did this blue whale eat a person — Ventostro?

BARRY HAUK: This blue whale could have eaten a person.

Barry stands in front of a big model of a blue whale baleen.

BARRY HAUK: This is a blue whale’s baleen, a comb-like structure it has instead of teeth. But if this whale had been in a lot of fights, some of its baleen could have been knocked out.

Scroll over paintings, sea creatures fighting

NARRATOR: As the largest whale, the whale would have been a target for other sea animals trying to prove they were tough.

BARRY HAUK: I’m going to simulate a fight by hitting this baleen with a hammer.

He knocks out several pieces.

BARRY HAUK: And simulate the sharpening that would have occurred over the course of this fight by taping knives to the baleen.

He does this as well.

BARRY HAUK: Now, we’ve got something that looks a lot more like teeth.

NARRATOR: But the blades are backwards. This is because whales eat by getting their food in their mouths first, then forcing it out through the baleen.

BARRY HAUK: The teeth would enable it to eat larger kinds of food, which could help explain how it got a little bit bigger than the other whales.

NARRATOR: But even a very big blue whale’s throat is only one foot in diameter, so it would have to slice Ventostro into pieces smaller than that to eat him.


Barry and handwriting expert KATHERINE SANDBERG carry a whole hog and drop it in the pool (cheap option — rack of ribs, and we have a very small model for the baleen)

NARRATOR: This whole hog weighs about 160 pounds — the same weight as Ventostro. We’re going to drag the baleen across the pig, to simulate the pressure of the whale’s throat.

They get in the water and try this.


SANDBERG: It’s not going!

BARRY HAUK: We need to haul as hard as we can at the same time. We’re simulating a very large whale.

SANDBERG: Okay, on three. One, two, three!

Both struggle.

BARRY HAUK: Okay, it’s not going.

Then, handwriting expert Katherine Sandberg has a breakthrough.

SANDBERG: Barry — when we eat ham, it’s usually not as tough as that pig, right?


SANDBERG: Why? Because it’s cooked.

NARRATOR: If the whale wanted to eat Ventostro, it would have cooked him — dragging him down to a superheated hydrothermal water vent to boil him.


BARRY HAUK: These vents are easily hot enough to boil a person, even Ventostro.

NARRATOR: Barry used Spam — already boiled ham — to simulate what the texture of the whole hog would be like after boiling it.


The hog is still floating in the pool

BARRY HAUK: We weren’t able to boil the whole hog, but this Spam should show us how it works. One, two three, haul!

He and Katherine haul on the baleen. The spam gets sliced

BARRY HAUK: These chunks are well under one foot, easily enough to fit down the whale’s throat.

NARRATOR: So there we have the story Melville told by not telling — the largest whale, a blue whale far larger than Moby Dick, drowned a fisherman named Ventostro who was out late fishing because he was reluctant to go home to his wife Dalphina, who was mad at him. It dragged him down to a hydrothermal vent, boiled him, and ate him, slicing him up with its busted-up baleen.

BARRY HAUK: It makes perfect sense. You’re the biggest whale that ever existed, you see all these other animals swimming around eating big things — you’re naturally going to resent them, look down on them. And being in all those fights will put a chip on your shoulder. It’s perfectly natural to take out your anger by eating Ventostro.

NARRATOR: But if that’s what happened, why would Melville drop a story that exciting from his manuscript?

BARRY HAUK: There’s one more thing Melville is telling us without telling us. He doesn’t put himself, Herman Melville, in the story. That could be because, while Ventostro was out fishing, Melville was at home with Dalphina. Melville would have felt guilty, but not guilty enough to confess, which is why he coded his confession in everything he didn’t say in Moby-Dick.

NARRATOR: Of course, that’s just one theory. Others say Ventostro may have been killed by the government, in which case the killing was justified.