The Harvard Lampoon

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The Harvard Lampoon
Castle Lasers-1.JPG
The Harvard Lampoon building on the night of its 100th Anniversary celebration. Designed by Edmund M. Wheelwright.
Categories Humor magazine
Year founded February 1876; 142 years ago (1876-02)
Based in Harvard University
Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S.
Language English
View of the Harvard Lampoon Castle

The Harvard Lampoon is an undergraduate humor publication founded in 1876 by seven undergraduates at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.


The Harvard Lampoon publication was founded in 1876 by seven undergraduates at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts who were inspired by popular magazines like Punch (1841) and Puck (1871).[1][2]The Harvard Lampoon is the world's second longest continually published humor magazine (after Nebelspalter).

The organization also produces occasional humor books (the best known being the 1969 J.R.R. Tolkien parody Bored of the Rings) and parodies of national magazines such as Entertainment Weekly and Sports Illustrated. Much of the organization's capital is provided by the licensing of the "Lampoon" name to National Lampoon, begun by Harvard Lampoon graduates in 1970.[citation needed]

The Lampoon publishes five issues annually. In 2006, the Lampoon began regularly releasing content on its website, including pieces from the magazine and web-only content. In 2009, the Lampoon published a parody of Twilight called Nightlight, which is a New York Times bestseller.[3] In February 2012, the Lampoon released a parody of The Hunger Games called The Hunger Pains.[4][5] It is also a New York Times bestseller.[6]

Lampoon's Ibis Mascot c.1888

The organization is housed a few blocks from Harvard Square in a mock-Flemish castle, the Harvard Lampoon Building.

The Lampoon is known for its bacchanalian parties, which can result in smashed plates and furniture. The Lampoon's affairs are administered by Harvard Lampoon, Inc.[7] Robert K. Hoffman, co-founder of the National Lampoon and major donor to the Dallas Museum of Art was a Trustee until his death in 2006, and was declared a Trustee "Ad-Infinitum" a year later.

Lampy posing in an image from an 1886 Lampoon


The 1885 Lampoon staff includes several notables, such as philosopher G. Santayana and newspaperman W.R. Hearst
Title Dingbat from an 1886 Lampoon

The Harvard Lampoon was first published in 1876 by seven founders including Ralph Wormeley Curtis, Edward Sandford Martin, Edmund March Wheelwright, and Arthur Murray Sherwood,[8] (who was the father of Robert E. Sherwood).[9] The Magazine began to take shape after several founders, at that time members of the Harvard Advocate, attempted to publish a humorous story in the magazine. When the story was rejected by the editor of the Advocate, the writers met and decided to print the story at cost to be nailed to a tree in Harvard Yard. The story was a hit and with the campus clamoring for more the Lampoon was born. In its earliest years the magazine focused primarily on the satirization of Harvard and Boston Brahmin society. Philosopher George Santayana was one of the earliest members of the Harvard Lampoon (seen at left).

As the Lampoon began to gain notoriety on campus, the society moved from offices in Hollis Hall, to addresses on Holyoke and Plympton streets respectively. These collections of rooms rented by the trustees of the Lampoon were famous not only for their beer nights, but also with the regularity that the Lampoon spent the profits made on each magazine for these beer nights. "It was a good night when the Lampoon could afford coal and beer, and they often had to choose between one or the other." Pranks abounded in the early years, some more destructive than others. Several depictions of early pranks can be found in the archives of Lampoon issues, often with the caption "a night with the Med Fac." Included in these pranksters was future news magnate William Randolph Hearst, who was expelled from Harvard after sending a pudding pot used as a chamber pot to a professor.[10]

In the early 20th century, the Trustees of the Lampoon decided that the time was right to find a permanent headquarters for the Lampoon, what eventually became The Castle, or the Harvard Lampoon Building. A Lampoon graduate from 1887, Archibald Cary Coolidge, professor of architecture at Harvard College, was chosen as the architect of one of the colleges newest dormitories, Randolph Hall. When designing Randolph, Coolidge purposefully made the dormitory recessed further back from Mt. Auburn Street than was at first designed and purchasing the land the Castle would stand on. The design of the castle was given to Edmund March Wheelwright, then city architect of Boston. After touring Europe with his friend Isabella Stewart Gardner, Wheelwright decided to build the castle in the style of a Flemish castle. Wheelwright and Gardner purchased thousands of Delft tiles and many other artifacts from Europe in order to be sent back to the Castle. The value of this collection is unknown, due to the secret nature of the organization. Much of the cost of building the Castle was paid for by William Randolph Hearst.

The Lampoon and its sensibility began to branch out away from the Harvard campus in the early 1960s, and soon became an especially important expression and feeder system of American humor and comedy since that time. In 1961, Mademoiselle offered the Lampoon staff an honorarium to produce a parody of their own magazine for the traditionally lower-selling July issue. The project boosted Mademoiselle's summer circulation along with the Lampoon's ever tenuous cash flow, and the magazine renewed its association with the Lampoon for a follow-up parody in July 1962, and a third parody issue (of Esquire) in July 1963. The magazine also produced a 70-page spoof of Ian Fleming's James Bond novels in 1962 titled Alligator, which was subsequently released by Random House. These projects proved popular, and led to full, nationally-distributed parodies of Playboy (1966), Time (1968), and Life (1969), and later, Cosmopolitan in 1972 and Sports Illustrated (1974).

An important line of demarcation came when Lampoon editors Douglas Kenney and Henry Beard wrote the Tolkien parody Bored of the Rings. The success of this book and the attention it brought its authors led directly to the creation of the National Lampoon magazine, which spun off a live show Lemmings, and then a radio show in the early 1970s, The National Lampoon Radio Hour, which featured such performers as Christopher Guest, Harry Shearer and Chevy Chase.

Writers from these shows were subsequently hired to help create Saturday Night Live. This was the first in a line of many TV shows that Lampoon graduates went on to write for, including The Simpsons, Futurama, Saturday Night Live, Late Night with David Letterman, Seinfeld, Friends, The League, NewsRadio, The Office, 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation and dozens of others. An old copy of the magazine was shown in the fourth-season finale of NewsRadio, and referred to as the "nefarious scandal sheet."

Cartoon by philosopher G. Santayana, Harvard class of 1886
Masthead of The Harvard Lampoon

Lampoon alumni include such comedians as Conan O'Brien, Andy Borowitz, B. J. Novak, Greg Daniels, and Colin Jost. Etan Cohen wrote for Beavis and Butt-Head as an undergraduate member. In 1986 former editor Kurt Andersen co-founded the satirical magazine Spy, which employed Lampoon writers Paul Simms and Eric Kaplan, and published the work of Lampoon alumni Patricia Marx, Lawrence O'Donnell and Mark O'Donnell. The Lampoon has also graduated many noted authors such as George Plimpton, George Santayana, John Updike, and William Gaddis. Actor Fred Gwynne was a cartoonist at the Lampoon and became its president. Famous Boston lawyer Bradley Palmer acted as treasurer for the Lampoon.

Celebrities often visit the Lampoon to be inducted as honorary members of the organization. Honorary members include Tony Hawk, Bill Cosby, Robin Williams, Elon Musk, Tracey Ullman, John Cleese, Jay Leno, Winston Churchill, Aerosmith, Adam Sandler, Billy Crystal, Ke$ha, Hugh Hefner, Ezra Pound, Kurt Vonnegut, the cast of Saturday Night Live, Sarah Silverman, and John Wayne.

It is disputed whether the etymology of "Lampoon" in the English language stems first from the Harvard Lampoon.

Rivalry with The Harvard Crimson[edit]

The Lampoon has a long-standing rivalry with Harvard's student newspaper, The Harvard Crimson, which repeatedly refers to the Lampoon in its pages as a "semi-secret Sorrento Square social organization which used to occasionally publish a so-called humor magazine".

1886 example of Crimson-teasing by Lampoon editor T.P. Sanborn

A noted event in the history of the LampoonCrimson rivalry was the Crimson's 1953 theft of the Lampoon Castle's ibis statue and presentation of it as a gift to the government of the Soviet Union.[11][12]

On September 27, 2011, the Lampoon stole the Harvard Crimson President's Chair and had it used as a prop on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.[13] On June 2, 2015, the Lampoon stole the Harvard Crimson President's Chair, pretended to be the Harvard Crimson editorial staff, and took the chair to Trump Tower to endorse now-President Donald Trump.[14]

Notable Members[edit]


  1. ^ Wright is cited as Comedian of Year, The Salina Journal, 4 April 1990, p. 24, retrieved November 22, 2013 
  2. ^ "The Last Laugh," Boston Globe Magazine, March 11, 2001.
  3. ^ Schuessler, Jennifer. "Hardcover". The New York Times. 
  4. ^
  5. ^ "The Hunger Pains". Amazon. Retrieved 29 September 2011. 
  6. ^ Cowles, Gregory. "Print & E-Books". The New York Times. 
  7. ^ "The Alumni - September–October '97 - Reading Homer". Retrieved 29 December 2017. 
  8. ^ "The Founders. A.D. 1876". The Harvard lampoon fiftieth anniversary 1876–1926. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard lampoon. 1926. 
  9. ^ Report - Harvard College (1780– ). Class of 1877. 1917. p. 338. 
  10. ^ The American Pageant: A History of the Republic, Thirteenth edition. 2006. 
  11. ^ "The Rhodes Roster", Harvard Magazine, 2004, retrieved 10-11-2013  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  12. ^ "'Dove of Peace' is 'Bird': Harvard Crimson's Gift to Reds Ends Up as Campus Prank", New York Times, p. 24, 1953-04-22 
  13. ^ "Crimson President's Chair on Jimmy Fallon!". Harvard Crimson. Retrieved 28 September 2011. 
  14. ^ Zimmerman, Neetzan (3 August 2015). "Harvard Lampoon tricks Trump with fake endorsement". Retrieved 29 December 2017. 

External links[edit]