Hal Mayforth

The Princeton Tiger’s first National Intercollegiate Comedy Conference was not, as you might have expected, a day full of nonstop laughter. More than 14 hours long, packed into one early-April day at Campus Club, that would have been impossible, and also painful to the belly.

Instead, the event was filled with both laughter pangs and growing pains. Almost 90 students representing humor magazines from 14 colleges spread out across the first floor of Campus Club for writing exercises on tone, parody, and dialogue, and at times the singular sound of keyboard clicks made the room feel more like a conference for actuaries than aspiring comedy writers.  

Which is not to say that this comedy conference was without, well, comedy. There were indeed moments of hilarity and real laughter. A particular crowd favorite was the keynote talk by Streeter Seidell, the garrulous, profane executive editor of the popular comedy website CollegeHumor, which featured ribald stories of shutting up hecklers, bombing as a young stand-up after taking the stage following Chris Rock, and sparring with an editor over the censorship of an inappropriate joke.

Seidell closed by inviting the students to apply to be his intern, saying that their involvement in collegiate comedy gave them a leg up on the competition. This delighted the partisan crowd, which perhaps was imagining a swank corner office at CollegeHumor’s New York City headquarters.

For this observer, though, the most satisfying moments were those in which the young humorists-to-be made each other laugh. Students from Cornell, the University of North Carolina, and Rutgers came armed with stacks of their humor magazines, hawking them like newspaper boys of a bygone era.

One session focused on fast-burst Twitter humor, with the comedians challenged to write lightning-quick quips of less than 140 characters to prompts like Old Money Professional Wrestling Monikers (“The Vanderbuilt”; “The Goldman Sacker”) and Rejected First Drafts of Famous Song Lyrics (“Oh, oh, we’re halfway there/ Whoa, oh, living inside a bear”).

A comic debate over “What is best in life” was also fruitful, as pitches for bachelorhood, schadenfreude, and Cutco knives (“Now yours for just $14.99 plus shipping and handling!”) had the supportive (and by that point, somewhat tipsy) crowd howling and whistling in appreciation.  

Answers to the debate question varied widely: Some were oddball (cheese; carpet swatches); some were tongue-in-cheek (nipples; being single; reveling in the pain of others); and some were, well, over-the-top in their patriotism (the University of Virginia’s Southern-twanged support for ­America!).