'Humor' Not So Shocking After All

BookEnds

Somewhere in Manhattan, the brass at Connected Ventures is probably smiling. They are the operators of CollegeHumor.com, a website catering to the lucrative male 18-24 demographic that reaches 8 million unique visitors a month. And CollegeHumor, which began life in 1999, seems primed to become a household name as a multimedia franchise with t-shirts, posters, and a recently-inked Paramount Pictures film deal.

Just in time for graduation season, the good folks at CollegeHumor have also published their first book, the cleverly-titled “The CollegeHumor Guide to College.” A faux-textbook that echoes the Daily Show-produced “America: the Book” (albeit with worse production values: no glossy pages or color photos to be found here), the tome attempts to encompass the entire college experience in just under 350 pages. Over the course of 19 chapters covering everything from “Friends” to “Extracurricular Activities” to “Spring Break,” the writers intersperse brief features with frequent illustrations and one-liners.

One part (bad) advice guide and one part mock sociological inquiry, the book offers funny takes on well-worn subjects like “the freshman 15” and “sexile” without ever straying far from its hyperbolic, intentionally-stupid brand of humor. It’s a perfect gift for that high school senior in your life, eager to read about all the drinking and fucking he’s going to do next year. COLLEGE!

One example of the book’s comedic style is a chart showing the different uses of a bagel “depending on what drug you’re abusing.” Who knew that a bagel is best suited as a cocaine plaything, an ecstasy bracelet, and an acid “black hole of death”?

Other humorous takes on the myriad absurdities of college life include the clever “Make Your Own Sociology Class.” For the record, this reviewer is taking “Interpreting ethnic relations with a focus on mushroom technology” next semester!

Despite sophomoric jokes like “So You’ve Decided to Suck Your Own Dick,” the CollegeHumor writers, like their Daily Show counterparts, are aiming at something deeper. Painting in broad brushstrokes, the book wants to be a satire of college life in the 2000s, an era of ADD, blowjobs, and Facebook.com.

The chief target of satire is the modern college male, universally depicted as drunken, horny, and stupid. The book features a series of short, “Onion”-style fake essays by “Blake,” the ultimate fratboy-jock-dude. A spot-on parody of the imagined male ideal, Blake checks in from chapter to chapter with missives like “Dude, Can you Spot Me?” and “Dude, My Frat is Crazy.”

In its persistent treatment of women as slutty and materialistic, the book also pokes fun at male perceptions of the college co-ed. At least that’s how the CollegeHumor writers would probably respond to criticisms of sexism and stereotyping. Sometimes, though, features like “How to Find the Clitoris,” depicting a large female stick figure with an arrow pointing toward the crotch, have an uncomfortable ring of sincerity to them.

For all of its exaggerated humor and assumed edginess, however, the book sheds little new light on the college experience. How ironic that a franchise whose signature is “the shocker” utterly fails to shock in “The CollegeHumor Guide to College.”

There are plenty of new takes on familiar subjects, but I was not truly surprised by any of the hundreds of topics the book touches upon. Every feature has an obviousness that smacks of a lack of effort and originality on the part of the CollegeHumor staff. The writers have covered all the bases, often examining college life to hilarious effect.

Unfortunately, they have only managed to produce an elementary textbook on the subject.

—Reviewer Daniel J. Mandel can be reached at djmandel@fas.harvard.edu.

The CollegeHumor Guide to College
By the writers of CollegeHumor.com
Dutton Adult
Out Now

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