Ellie Parker
Favorite Location: Darwin's Ltd
Photographs By John Y Wang
Eleanor H. Parker
By Colton A. Valentine, Crimson Staff Writer
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Eleanor H. Parker may have a “deeply split personality,” but she finds that her life is “both disorienting and refreshingly compartmentalized.” She’s the head writer and vice president of the Harvard Lampoon, a semi-secret Sorrento Square social organization that used to occasionally publish a so-called humor magazine. She’s also a member of the women’s heavyweight crew team and an organismic and evolutionary biology concentrator. She calls herself the class clown on the Charles, the physical strength of the Lampoon Castle, and references the OEB legend that Larry Summers called the department “boy scout science.” Clearly, her character is far from fragmented; humor pervades all the personalities.

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We’re at Darwin’s: Parker’s favorite place in Harvard Square. She comes here for the coffee and crew nostalgia—but it’s after 2 p.m. so she’s a tea-totaler. Her middle name, Hillyer, is almost identical to her favorite Darwin’s sandwich, the Hilliard, “probably out of an implicit egotism thing.” Self-deprecation, it seems, is the crux of her pervasive humor.

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Parker’s first Lampoon comp piece, for instance, parodied a childhood misinterpretation of a pamphlet on mountain lion safety, specifically the tip: “Keep children with you at all times.” For Parker, this meant tykes like herself were magical talismans against cougars and should accompany all adults to ward off the feline predators.

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When I ask for her favorite joke, she skirts the question and directs me to the oldest one she remembers. From a joke book by Rosie O’Donnell, it goes:

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Why did the stoplight turn red?
Why?
Wouldn’t you turn red if you were caught changing in the middle of the road?

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Today, Parker’s comedy exploits garner more attention than a simple chuckle. With Lampoon president Alexis C. Wilkinson ’15, she spearheaded a Huffington Post parody last summer that she says drew a quarter of a million page views, a personal email from Sheryl Sandberg, and a sly shout-out from Arianna Huffington herself. The media magnate, Parker reports, said she was pleased that students had spent their time studying her site instead of backpacking through Europe. When I ask Parker about being a part of the first female executive pair at the Lampoon, Parker speaks earnestly about female role models in comedy.

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As a writer, her literary loves are far from pure satire; she cites Tom Robbins, Elizabeth Bishop, and Virginia Woolf as inspirations. She’s considering abandoning “boy scout science” and returning to study literature post-grad—a choice that would cycle her back to a pre-extracurricular, more academic Ellie.

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In high school, she was a Latin scholar who battled invasive plants in her spare time. Agriculture and classics merged when, for an independent study, her school gave her a plot of land so she could personally explore the frustration with farming in Virgil’s “Georgics.”

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College, for Parker, meant more emphasis on communities and people, and less on rigorous scholarship. She has no “professional agenda” for OEB, though she did spend a summer doing research on the ages at which children develop fundamental biological concepts.

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Parker speaks more fondly, though, of the summer after her freshman year, when she found an opening on Crimson Careers as a ranch hand in Wyoming. She mentions the experience offhand as an example of her interest in “mining” Cambridge and Harvard for “strange sub-cultures.” Though she remains an avid bird watcher, she’s found agricultural pursuits difficult to keep up with.

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When I ask her to recount a moment of solace in her performative, to-the-max lifestyle, Parker pauses to sip her tea before responding: her time at Cambridge Friends, a Quaker meeting house. At meetings, participants sit in silence for an hour unless someone feels moved to speak—an average of four to five per session, she says, unless national politics has members riled up. Parker has never spoken herself.

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“It’s a beautiful counterpoint to pretty much everything here,” she says, shifting between quirky affirmation and cultural critique, “which is full participation and often a jostling for attention.”

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