“Yeah,” says Limm dryly. “I can’t go two steps outside without hearing about George Santayana.”
While Lampooners are mindful and respectful of the club’s gilded history, they also, obviously, are keen to make their own. Asked what attracted him to the Lampoon upon his arrival on campus, it’s not George Plimpton or William Gaddis that Berkman mentions. “I remember when I was a freshman in 2003, there was an advertisement for the Strokes [at the castle]. Most people thought, ‘Oh yeah, another Lampoon joke, they’re not gonna bring the Strokes.’ So we show up outside the building, and sure enough, the Strokes show up and careen around the building in go-karts. It’s incredibly dangerous; there were tons of people everywhere. They delivered.”
“I was gonna quit, and then we got Sarah Silverman [to visit] a few weeks ago,” deadpans Pearson. (Log on to HarvardLampoon.com to see photos of Silverman legging it from third to home on the softball diamond, partaking of some late afternoon ice cream with the guys, and enjoying a thrilling jaunt to the local 7-11.)
Hanging out with celebrities sounds fun. But they’ve also got a magazine to put out. So, how does it square with the magazine’s 130-year history?
More than once, the Lampoon has been accused of trading in a haughty sense of humor that only a hyper-educated person with a skewed addiction to pop culture would appreciate. And that’s true to an extent. There’s also a measure of absurdism at work that doesn’t exactly translate into gales of uproarious laughter. Some of the pieces are good for a slight chuckle, though, even if others are simply silly.
Some are fragmentary quips in the tradition of Stephen Wright or Mitch Hedberg: “When people say something is ‘the crime of the century,’ are they referring to the century in which the crime took place, or do they mean that it’s the best crime of the last 100 years? Because I think it’s unfair that I have to compete against the Holocaust until 2045.”
Some are laugh-out-loud funny, like Moerder’s concocted list of subliminal messages coded in Disney films. (“In 101 Dalmatians, when Patch rolls over, the sound of his stomach hitting the floor eerily resembles the sound of a dick slapping a watermelon” . . . “In one scene of Bambi, Bambi’s mom emerges from the forest in a dazed, disheveled manner. You know, like she just got fucked.”)
Some items are real head-scratchers: not just inside-baseball, but borderline nonsensical. Like this poem excerpt:
A puppy stands naked and shivering in the October dusk,
Apparently abandoned by a cruel Professora.
Her name is Harvard Professor Helen Vendler,
And she has left puppies to die each October dusk.
And others are just dumb. Like a short dialogue about a kid who doesn’t want to take a bath with his brother because his brother craps in the tub, or another about an old lady being detained by airport security for having a duffle bag full of falsies.
A reviewer commenting on some Lampoon back issues on Amazon.com describes the oeuvre best. “Cerebral parsley. Lets be honest, that’s what this really is: garnish for the mind.” Sometimes it’s hard to square what you read in the magazine with literary and comedic giants from its past, such as Plimpton and O’Brien. But then again, this is Harvard; shouldn’t we expect a legend to come around every decade or so?