How an N.B. couple bonded over a love of satire and gave birth to a Manatee

·6 min read
Shauna Case and Alex Vietinghoff, founders of the satirical website the Manatee, delight in poking fun at all things New Brunswick — including themselves. Here, they pose for an engagement photo with the toilet paper they hoarded during the pandemic.   (Alex Vietinghoff - image credit)
Shauna Case and Alex Vietinghoff, founders of the satirical website the Manatee, delight in poking fun at all things New Brunswick — including themselves. Here, they pose for an engagement photo with the toilet paper they hoarded during the pandemic. (Alex Vietinghoff - image credit)

To some people, New Brunswick might not seem the most exciting province in the country.

It might seem like a less razzle-dazzle version of upscale provinces like British Columbia, a less boasty version of powerhouse provinces like Ontario.

In fact, there are rumours — hotly denied and never openly spoken of — that some people refer to it as No Funswick.

Shauna Chase and Alex Vietinghoff are not those people.

To this Fredericton couple, born and raised No Funswickers, New Brunswick is such a hotbed of hilarity, outrageous goings-on and bizarre political antics they had to create a website to hold it all.

That website is The Manatee, and if you've ever taken even a casual look at it, three things probably happened: 1) you laughed out loud, 2) you bookmarked it and 3) you realized New Brunswick might just be the Most Funswick province of them all.

Who needs onions when you have manatees?

It started in 2014.

Chase and Vietinghoff were just friends back then, with a mutual fondness for the sort of sass and sarcasm served up on The Onion, a U.S.-based satirical website.

"We'd send each other Onion articles" and muse about how New Brunswick sort of has an Onion flavour of its own, Chase said.

It was a fact few seemed to be aware of.

There were other Canadian satirical websites, but they rarely covered anything that happened in Atlantic Canada.

"It was like they didn't know about the Maritimes," Chase said.

She and Vietinghoff mused that maybe they should start their own website.

"And so we decided to do that."

Facebook
Facebook

Together, they birthed the Manatee, writing posts about news events and local personalities and bringing on other writers who shared their vision.

It didn't take long before the Manatee got noticed.

One of their earliest stories, a satirical Halloween post warning New Brunswickers that the government had imposed a curfew on trick or treating, caused quite a kerfuffle.

"Anyone found going door to door past 4:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 31 will be fined a minimum of $100, up to a maximum of $500 depending on the number of children in their group and the amount of effort put into the costumes, with smaller fines for more creative families," the post warned.

New Brunswickers, who weren't yet accustomed to being Manatee'd, were outraged. They phoned their mayors, they phoned police, they phoned whoever they could think of who could do something to put a stop to this crackdown on Halloween fun.

"People freaked out," Chase said. "The Fredericton police had to issue a statement that it wasn't true [because] they got so many calls."

That put the Manatee on the map, and its writers haven't looked back since.

The Manatee
The Manatee

Seven years later, the website has perfected the art of snarkasm and has built a robust catalog of favourite targets.

Irving-owned everything is a favourite whipping boy.

"People are obsessed with the Irvings," Chase said. "It's something that's controversial in New Brunswick, the Irving family and everything they do. So it's pretty easy to make fun of that."

Hence you'll find headlines like this one: "Irvings buy naming rights to every child born in 2020."

"If you're pregnant or planning to become pregnant in the next few months, your baby could be named by and after the Irving Group of Companies," the Manatee warned in that September 2019 story.

Provincial and municipal politicians are treated to frequent snark baths.

Nuisance deer, sports and COVID-19 also come in for almost weekly roastings, and on a good day, the Manatee can take out two targets with one arrow, as it did in this story in November: "Omicron COVID comes from anti-mask N.B. deer, says Public Health."

New Brunswick's health-care struggles have spawned countless headlines. Take the government's desperate scramble to cope with hospital staff shortages by rotating emergency department closures at various hospitals.

The Manatee's take? "New Brunswickers shooting themselves in order to be admitted to ER," with quotes from fake patients who'd successfully busted in.

"Yeah, it's already starting to heal quite nicely," said patient David Oates, rubbing his fingers over his swollen bullet wound. "It was painful, I'm not going to lie to you, but when the nurses saw it, they ushered me right in."

Basically, Chase said, nothing is off-limits, and if it seems like it should be off-limits, then it's probably going to be one of the site's most popular posts.

The Manatee
The Manatee

Reality got you down? Rewrite it!

The key to effective satire, Chase said, is having it firmly rooted in reality. It has to have an element of absurdity, and if you're really lucky, has an almost magically therapeutic, blood-pressure-lowering effect on the reader.

It's a way to help people cope with stress by letting off steam and nervous energy, much as sports do but without the physical effort and unpleasant perspiration.

"The stories that do the best are based on real events," putting of a humorous spin on nettlesome reality, Chase said.

WATCH: New Brunswick man GPS voice

Chase and Vietinghoff, who are now married, both write for the website, with Chase also handling administrative duties and Vietinghoff handling video.

Three other writers — Shawn Rouse, Brandon Hicks and Paul Lewis — round out the main contributors stable and have been writing for the website since it began.

The writers have honed their style over the years, learning as they go, and are constantly delighted by New Brunswickers' endearing willingness to laugh at themselves — with occasional, extremely heated exceptions.

Chase learned that the hard way, when she posted what she thought was a fairly innocuous story.

The headline was "Report: Nobody wants to go to your games night."

"I didn't think anything of it when I posted it, but before long people were emailing me personally to tell me off," Chase said.

Despite the occasional negative feedback, Chase and Vietinghoff plan to let the Manatee continue exposing New Brunswick's underbelly as long as people keep wanting to see it.

It won't ever make them rich, but that was never the plan, Chase said.

It's always been a labour of love, with all contributors, including themselves, writing as volunteers and with the revenue from ads generating just enough to cover the web hosting fees.

"I think it's really cool that despite us not being able to offer anyone money, they still do it, and have been doing it for years," Chase said. "It's a lot of work, but it's really fun to do."

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting