Students looking for a laugh and a bit of Cornell history were satiated yesterday in Bethe House. Former Sun cartoonist Joey Green ’80 spoke of his time at the University, his career as an advertiser and writer, and the need for humor in our political dialogue.
Green came to Cornell as a fine arts major and an aspiring political cartoonist. With the breadth requirements built into the BFA program, he was able to explore subjects ranging from government to creative writing that would later have a huge impact on his career as a writer and advertiser. Though Green joined The Sun as a cartoonist, he quickly looked for other creative outlets. With Cornell’s original humor magazine in disgrace for being “sexist,” Green came up with the idea for what would become The Lunatic. According to Green, the name originated when a friend told him he was a lunatic.
“My idea was that [The Lunatic] should be the best college humor magazine in the nation” Green said.
“It’s generally very irreverent and gets its editors in trouble with administrators for doing something that’s distasteful, which is sometimes a good thing,” Green said.
As Green emphasized, however, The Lunatic should not be the sole source of campus humor. While at Cornell, Green said he was involved in his share of crazy pranks. These included starting up the “Cornell Liberation Army — a group whose goal was to “wipe out Cornell in your lifetime” and starting a fake “financial aid sweepstakes.” As social commentary on student apathy, Green helped paint “Protest student activism” across Sibley, an event which garnered attention from The New York Times. Green also took part in distributing fake programs at Cornell sporting events, almost getting expelled in the process. After a group of law students rallied to his aid, Green was let off the hook by the J.A. — only to pull a similar stunt at the Cornell-Harvard hockey game just a month later. In addition to the fake programs, Green ran for student council on an “Abolish Student Council” platform. He won, only to resign.
Following his studies at Cornell, Green went on to work for The National Lampoon, where he started off writing parodies of Hemingway and Kerouac. From there, Green went on to write for Rolling Stone. Later, he began a career in advertising, working for companies like Burger King.
“It was a crazy atmosphere,” said Green of his advertising career. “There are lots of crazy people in advertising.”
Green took time off from advertising to backpack around the world with his wife. From their wedding, they flew to Venezuela. Over the course of two years, they travelled to South Africa, Israel, China, Hong Kong, Thailand, Indonesia and Australia among others. While traveling, he supported himself by writing and taking a brief advertising job in Hong Kong.
“Life is an amazing journey, and you have no idea where it’s going to take you,” Green said, commenting on his travels and career.
Upon returning to the United States, Green took a job at Disney. Though Green’s time at Disney was short-lived, he was quick to point out the job perks.
“The great thing about working [for Disney] is you have a free pass to go to the park whenever you want. I’m a kid at heart so I was at the park almost every day,” Green admitted.
After parting ways with Disney, Green began what would be a highly successful literary career. He began compiling books of the best college humor and did several books making fun of popular TV shows like Gilligan’s Island, Get Smart and The Partridge Family. However, it was Green’s books about alternative uses for popular products that would vault him to stardom . Highlights from his TV appearances included getting Jay Leno to shave with peanut butter and pouring Miller Light on Conan O’Brien’s head to demonstrate how beer can act as mousse.
While Green acknowledged the silliness of such stunts, he emphasized the critical political role of humor.
“Pranks are using humor as a weapon to make people laugh at themselves” Green said. “If you want to make a political point, you can make it much faster with a joke.”
To make his point, Green discussed his “economic stimulus plan.” According to Green, the U.S. money system is completely irrational: presidents should appear on bills and coins corresponding to when they were president. George Washington, for example, should be on the penny — not the quarter — because he was the first president. To Green, putting the nearly-electrocuted Benjamin Franklin on the hundred dollar bill is even more absurd and sends a terrible message. Though Green didn’t mean for his plan to be taken seriously, he showed the power of humor in a political context by making his audience laugh about a serious issue.
While Green urged those in attendance to incorporate humor into their lives, he also cautioned them.
“The main thing is don’t get in trouble, don’t kill anybody, don’t hurt yourself, and make sure it’s not going to offend people in a way that’s sexist or racist.”
Audience members agreed with Green’s emphasis on the importance of humor.
“I think [humor] is as important as ever,” said Ben Strauss ’11, current editor of The Lunatic. “College campuses are nothing without someone to make fun of them.”
For Strauss and other members of The Lunatic, Green’s talk instilled in them respect for the magazine’s past and hope for its future.
“It’s great to hear about the history [of The Lunatic] and see the legacy that we are carrying on. It makes us all try harder to be funnier,” Strauss said.
“[The Lunatic will always be] there to pester people with persistent loitering in Ho Plaza,” added Robert Hoyden grad, a staff writer.
Original Author: Emily Greenberg