Takoma Park has long been DC’s crunchiest suburb, and it’s easy to make fun of its quirks, controversies, and general sprouted-grain-bread vibe. But nobody is quite as dedicated to that task as Eric Saul, who for the past couple of years has deployed his humor website, the Takoma Torch, to mercilessly poke at the place’s lefty pieties. “I’m liberal myself,” he says, “so it’s sort of like making fun of my own views.”
The Torch was born on Facebook in 2019 and quickly became a standalone site that publishes Onion-style satirical news stories such as White People Exhausted After Five Straight Days of Opposing Racism. The effort has been a modest hit, to the extent that a hyper-local humor publication can be.
Then things got a little less amusing in September, when Saul—who writes most of the posts, with input from some friends in a group chat—ran a story about a new baseball team in Olney. The (pretty funny!) gag: A supposed team website, OlneyFans.com, was attracting massive traffic from people looking for adult content on OnlyFans.com. (The team doesn’t actually have a website.)
An organization behind the baseball crew threatened to sue Saul if he didn’t remove the article. He tweeted a photo of the letter, which went viral and earned him pro bono help from a local attorney, Jennifer Gross, who was able to help defuse the situation. Everyone “just sort of agreed to move on,” Saul says.
But the incident generated a ton of attention for the Torch, which began selling “OlneyFans” T-shirts. (He donated profits to the organization that maintains the field where the team will play.) The site isn’t much of a business, says Saul, who makes his living as an architect. It pulls in less than $1,000 a year from ads. But its content has a way of capturing the foibles of its target area. “Takoma Park is very rich with material,” he says. “It’s like a Parks and Rec episode every day.”
One fact that the Torch’s detractors seem to find pertinent: Saul doesn’t live in Takoma Park. His home is technically in Silver Spring, just across the street from the border. Residents “get really territorial about ‘You have to live here to make fun of here,’ ” he says. But that doesn’t bother one fan: Takoma Park mayor Kate Stewart, who reads the site regularly. As she sees it, “To be part of the community is a mindset.”
This article appears in the November 2021 issue of Washingtonian.