WASHINGTON -- The founder and financier of the nation's first major black college humor magazine wasn't here for the launch of Howard University's Illtop Journal. But comedian Chris Rock sent his regards via telegram: "I'm making a movie to pay for this all over again."
After more than two years and chronic delays, the Illtop formally debuted yesterday on the Howard campus, where the quarterly magazine will be published and distributed. Molded in the satirical vein of the Harvard Lampoon, Howard's new lampoon is the brainchild of Rock, who has long decried the shortage of black writers in show business.
"We are in a market where people of color are under-represented and nearly nonexistent in the creative behind-the-scenes roles," Rock wrote for the premiere issue. "See you next issue, and may we waste as much money as possible on after parties."
The Illtop -- a word play on Howard's student newspaper the Hilltop -- strikes a rebel pose with its cover illustration of a Howard student suffering a fraternal paddling. The cover caption reads: "Our Brutal Initiation into the World of Literary Humor." The tone is all Rock: in-your-face, literary, topical and "seriously funny" (the Illtop's reigning guideline for submissions) comedy. And race is often on center stage.
"Comedy is a mirror of our perceptions and there are ethnic and racial differences," said student and staff writer Kobina Yankah. "We're going to tell our jokes and hope they appeal to everyone."
From an ad for "1-800-Dial-A-Negro" ("In trouble? Need someone to blame?") to a feature on a "Thug Sperm" bank ("Designed to increase the nation's beloved thug population"), the new magazine will be anything but a shy child in the traditionally conservative home of Howard University.
During two workshops here conducted by Rock and members of his staff, the Emmy-winning performer encouraged students to aim for edgy yet enlightening observations. Judging by the first issue, the Illtop staff had paid attention in class.
One deft example comes in a piece called, "White Student's Guide to Howard U.," written by one of two white staff members on the predominantly black magazine at the predominantly black university.
"First, you will be thought to be a dental or medical student. Others may actually assume you're at Howard on a swimming scholarship," wrote Sean Tierney under the silly pseudonym Chuck O'Fay.
"If you're a white guy and you think a 'sister' is checking you out, you're probably wrong. She's just wondering what the hell you're doing at Howard," Tierney wrote. In his "final recommendations," he advises fellow white students to get their hockey scores from the Internet and "don't suggest a dorm-wide trip to Monticello, no matter how pretty you may think it is."
The Illtop reads like standard humor fare when poking fun at the cafeteria food, but it quickly comes to its senses. When out after dark on campus and encountering an armed man, it says, "Remember: 'Should I cock back and blast you here or there?' is a rhetorical question" from "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Howard University."
And from staffer Jerry Craft's cartoon called "The Black Emmy Awards," the nominees for best African-American lead in a network program went to a Ricki Lake guest known only as "Boozin'-baby-daddy-cheatin'-with his girl's sister."
Chris Rock must be very proud.