Harvard University's famous undergraduate humor publication The Harvard Lampoon has some exciting news: Alexis Wilkinson will be the publication's first black president, as well as its first black female president, and with Vice President Ellie Parker, the pair will be the first set of women running the Lampoon.
Though to some the Lampoon might seem like a small publication at a famous college, the symbolism and potential ramifications of this moment are big. The Lampoon isn't just a humor magazine; former writers for the publication include big comedy stars working now, like Conan O'Brien and B.J. Novak, or former president Simon Rich, who went on to write for Saturday Night Live and has published several books. Other authors famous for less traditionally humorous work – like George Plimpton and John Updike – were also on the Lampoon staff. In the comedy community, it's considered an important part of the talent pipeline.
In an interview for NPR's Tell Me More with Michel Martin, Wilkinson (who plans to pursue a career in comedy writing) told Martin that she's particularly excited about the development because of her own experiences growing up, especially given the recent discussions that have been cropping up about the diversity of shows like SNL.
"SNL was one of the few shows I was allowed to watch growing up," Wilkinson said, citing cast members Maya Rudolph and Kenan Thompson as performers she looks up. "I wasn't allowed to watch Seinfeld and Simpsons and things that sort of inform Lampoon writers sensibility." Wilkinson also said that while so much attention has been placed on the cast of SNL, she's also interested in focusing on the writers rooms of shows, arguing that even programs targeted to black audiences with black casts have shockingly undiverse groups of people writing for them.
As for the pair's goals for the magazine, Parker says they just want to continue the work of their predecessors. But "We're hoping that this changes the landscape...of people applying to be on the magazine, hoping that just having two women at the lead of the magazine encourages people to apply and get involved and get excited about writing comedy," she said, adding:
So much of comedy is confidence. When you feel you are like the other people in your community, for instance a humor organization, I think you feel more comfortable and that makes it just easier to make jokes. So when you feel like the odd man out, or in this case the odd woman out, definitely, that is a barrier to comedy.
Wilkinson agrees. "Women are trained to be looked at and not to be laughed at," she told Martin. With more like her and Parker, perhaps that won't be the case for long.
Images via The Harvard Lampoon