The Harvard Lampoon

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

The Harvard Lampoon
The Harvard Lampoon Building on the night of its 100th anniversary celebration. Designed by Edmund M. Wheelwright.
CategoriesHumor magazine
Year foundedFebruary 1876 (1876-02)
Based inHarvard University
Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S.


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-running continually published humor magazine (after Nebelspalter). It is the oldest continually published college humor magazine.

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.

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]

The Lampoon is housed a few blocks from Harvard Square in a mock-Flemish castle, the Harvard Lampoon Building. It has been ranked by the magazine Complex as the fifth most phallic building in the world.[7]

The Lampoon is known for its bacchanalian parties, which can result in smashed plates and furniture.


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] (father of Robert E. Sherwood).[9] The first issue of the Lampoon was a single copy, nailed to a tree in Harvard Yard. In its earliest years the magazine focused primarily on the satirization of Harvard and Boston Brahmin society.

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." William Randolph Hearst was expelled from Harvard after sending a pudding pot used as a chamber pot to a professor.[10]

A Lampoon graduate from 1887, Archibald Cary Coolidge, professor of architecture at Harvard College, was chosen as the architect of Randolph Hall, one of the colleges newest dormitories. Legend has it that when designing Randolph, Coolidge purposefully made the dormitory recessed further back from Mt. Auburn Street than was at first designed, purchasing for himself the land the Castle now stands on. The design of the castle was given to Edmund M. Wheelwright, then city architect of Boston.

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."

Lampoon alumni include such comedians as Conan O'Brien, Andy Borowitz, B. J. Novak, Greg Daniels, Michael Schur, 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 and president of the Lampoon. 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

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".

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 again stole the Harvard Crimson President's Chair, this time, pretending that it was the Harvard Crimson's editorial staff, they took the chair to Trump Tower to endorse now-President Donald Trump.[14]

The Fashionable Lampoon, a culture magazine based out of Italy and distributing globally, based its title on The Harvard Lampoon.[15]

Notable members


  1. "Wright is cited as Comedian of Year". The Salina Journal. 4 April 1990. p. 24. Retrieved November 22, 2013.
  2. Rosenwald, Michael (March 11, 2001). "The last laugh". Boston Globe Magazine. Retrieved 2019-05-17.
  3. Schuessler, Jennifer. "Hardcover". The New York Times.
  4. "The Hunger Pains". Simon & Schuster. Retrieved 2019-05-17.
  5. "The Hunger Pains". Amazon. Retrieved 29 September 2011.
  6. Cowles, Gregory. "Print & E-Books". The New York Times.
  7. Schonberger, Nick (12 November 2012). "The 10 Most Ridiculous Phallic Buildings". Complex. Retrieved 2019-05-17.
  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. March–April 2004. Retrieved October 11, 2013.
  12. "'Dove of Peace' is 'Bird'; Harvard Crimson's Gift to Reds Ends Up as Campus Prank". The New York Times. 22 April 1953. p. 24. Retrieved 2019-05-17.
  13. "Crimson President's Chair on Jimmy Fallon!". The Harvard Crimson. Retrieved 28 September 2011.
  14. Zimmerman, Neetzan (3 August 2015). "Harvard Lampoon tricks Trump with fake endorsement". The Hill. Retrieved 29 December 2017.
  15. "LAMPOON, la nuova chiave di lettura della moda". (in Italian). Retrieved 2019-07-11.
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