Remember my scare-quotes in the last post regarding “annual” parody issues of college humor magazines? I used them because most college hu… I’m tired of typing that … most CHMs, even in their 1920s-50s heyday, didn’t put out a major parody every year.
(By “major,” I mean a full-length parody of a national, or at least non-student, publication. This rules out every collegian’s favorite punching bag: the campus newspaper. Such papers are so ripe for parody that, in the absence of a CHM, student journalists will gleefully do the job on themselves, usually on April 1 or in the last issue before exams.)
The Harvard Lampoon may be the source of the “annual” misapprehension. Early on, its parodies really did appear every year: 27 in the quarter-century from 1919 to 1943. (Here’s a list.) They also came thick and fast in the ’60s, including “Pl*yb*y” (1966) and the brilliant but money-losing “Life” (1968). Since then, the Lampoon has produced a national parody roughly once every four years, and the intervals are getting longer. In the past 25 years there have been only two: “Premiere” (2005) and “National Geographic” (2008). Today’s ‘Poonies would rather parody best-sellers like The Hunger Games and websites like The Huffington Post, which inspired 2014’s online-only “Huffington Psst.” Links to the “Huffington Psst” no longer work, but copies of the Lampoon’s 1917 “Vanity Fair” still do. Advantage: print.
Others with long parody streaks include the Yale Record in 1954-67, the Ohio State Sundial in 1947-60 and the Stanford Chaparral in 1949-61; Chappie’s run ended with an item called “Layboy” that got the mag shut down for a few years. No doubt more examples are tucked away in college archives, but I suspect they’re exceptions. In every complete(ish) CHM collection I’ve examined in person or online, the parody issues are distributed fairly randomly. Four examples:
- Though the Ohio State Sundial (1911-73, with several interruptions) had a good run in 1947-60, its only full-length national parody in the three decades before that was “Vague” (i.e., Vogue) in May 1924. After the early ’60s, Sundial struggled to produce any issues on a regular basis, let alone parodies. The most recent resuscitation attempt was made in 2011-12.
- Despite being a mixed humor-feature mag, the Northwestern Purple Parrot (1921-50; online here) put out five major parodies in its first 21 years, then got the bug and did nine in a row from 1942 to ’50. Its more feature-oriented successor, Profile, produced only one, “Esquirk,” in 1952.
- The Duke University Duke ‘n’ Duchess (1936-42, ’46-51) did three full-length parodies in its eleven years. Two were produced by the same staff: “Esquire,” in November 1940 and the “D&D New Yorker” the following March. The third was put together quickly in November 1949 to answer a Look magazine photo-feature on homecoming at rival UNC. Called “Dook … ‘n’ Duchess,” it aimed its venom mainly at the Tar Heels; the Look format was only a vessel. D’n’D’s successor, Peer (1953-69), produced only one notable parody, a 1967 spoof of the local Durham Morning Herald.
- The Missouri Showme (1920-63 with many interruptions; online here) was famous in college-humor circles for producing talented cartoonists and barnyard humor. The latter earned it several suspensions, though in the end it died of neglect rather than persecution. In the 29 years it did appear, Showme issued only two full-length parodies: “Strife” (i.e., Life) in February 1937 and the “Saturday Evening Pest” in November 1950. Later parodies of Confidential (“Confidental,” October 1957) and men’s adventure mags (“Sweat,” February 1961) were briefer and made little effort to duplicate their targets.
Showme’s experience proves how tricky parody issues can be. “Sweat” was neither well-done nor popular, but its aroma of he-man raunch was strong enough to get the magazine shut down for over a year. “It included a parody of the life of a house-mother … who tried to trap a male janitor in the laundry,” co-editor Dale Allen said later. “University house-mothers were outraged by this affront to their dignity. They demanded that the university cease publication of this scandalous sheet … [and] the publications board … pronounced a death sentence.”
The “Pest,” on the other hand, succeeded editorially but failed commercially. It was Showme’s most elaborate parody at 52 pages, some enhanced by spot color; highlights included a nonsensical short story by editor-in-chief Jerry Smith and convincing imitations of famous Post cartoonists by artist Glenn Troelstrup. “Unfortunately, the very costly issue was late in arriving, and [was] sold on the worst day of the week for student activity on campus. It was quite a monetary loss,” Smith recalled. Promo ads had promised the “Pest” would be Showme’s “First Annual Parody,” but instead it was the last to fill a whole issue. Who knows how many “annual” parodies at other schools ended up in the same position? — VCR