Telling it Like It Isn’t: The History of Drexel’s Joke Issues
This article is part of the DrexelNow “Faces of Drexel” series honoring Drexel’s history as part of the University-wide celebration of the 125th anniversary of Drexel’s founding in 1891.
“Uncle Sam Drafts Entire Drexel Faculty.” “Hagerty Library Scandal Exposes Porn Ring.” Did those shocking events ever really happen on campus? The staff of Drexel’s student newspaper The Triangle has been telling it like it isn’t since at least 1941, which is the earliest date of the newspaper’s first joke issue preserved in the Drexel Archives. With a new issue of what’s now called The Rectangle coming soon, it’s worth looking back through the history of humor on Drexel’s campus.
The newspaper’s first joke issue came out on April 25 rather than April Fools’ Day, and many future jokes would actually form a happy end to the academic year. It set trends that would endure, such as ridiculous plays on faculty and administrator names — with excellent lampoons of Professor Slipstick Willie Risque (for Robert C. Disque, two-time interim president and dean emeritus of the College of Engineering and Science) and Coach Faulter Ballast (for Walter Halas, Drexel’s director of athletics and head coach of three different sports teams) — and complaints about high tuition. However, these spoof articles didn’t appear in a separate issue, as The Triangle would do in the future, and instead awkwardly ran alongside very real stories like a New York Times expose of famine in wartime Belgium.
America’s own entry into World War II seemed to offer plenty of demand for humor as the Drexel Institute of Technology itself was mobilized for war. “ROTC Scheduled For Active Duty,” reported the issue of April 20, 1945:
“The Battalion will be attached the 999th Ranger division and will be parachuted to Berlin via submarine. Once they have reached the Berlin shores they will assume disguises (ghosts and goblins) and frighten the peaceful country side. The attack will be lead by Colonel Dumpling, better known to his men as Terrible Tom, and staunch veteran of the Franco-Indian War.
Those ROTC men wearing the Blue and Yellow service ribbon (killed in action) will of course be exempt from active duty.”
But why were there apparently no joke issues before the 1940s, although The Triangle did feature a few humor columns before then? One explanation might be that the paper was originally founded in 1926 as a more serious journalistic spin-off of monthly comic magazine The Drexerd, and that Drexel Institute was simply well-supplied with jokes before then.
In any case, joke issues became a Triangle tradition that is still enjoyed in the present day. They offer editors an outlet for breaking with journalistic convention. Some of the humor is good-natured ribbing at frequent subjects of the news, but often the gags reflect the editors’ critical relationship with campus institutions.
For instance, the Rectangle issue published April 1, 2001 (now so-called) reported that “The presidency of the Undergraduate Student Government Association remained in doubt this week as the debate over the ballot recount continued. Sarah Williams, a junior majoring in marketing, won the initial count but alleged irregularities led her opponent, Herman Chilson, to call for a recount of all 14 ballots.”
The same issue included a jab at short-lived campus publication rival The Torch, sarcastically suggesting The Triangle might as well give up: “The Triangle wasted a lot of time covering stories like the Social Security number violations and the proposed merger with Hahnemann, and doing features like comparing book prices at the bookstore with online vendors. But The Torch was doing a better job covering the car accident stories students want to hear about.”
Because joke issues can be quite unrestrained, they’re rarely free of controversy. The April 3, 1987 issue didn’t just announce a “Presidential Love Triangle exposed to university community and world opinion,” but came with an edited nude photo of President William Gaither with two deans. The next issue, with regular reporting, featured a letter from the editor from Vice President of Student Affairs Arthur Joblin in which he called the photograph “not at all humorous.” In 2015, President John A. Fry was similarly pictured doing the Naked Bike Ride, but he seemed to take that in stride.
Last year’s Rectangle focused on the presidential election, with the editorial board endorsing Bernie Sanders and demanding “full Communism now.” It will not be a surprise that politics has continued to offer plenty of material for humor this year.
The latest batch of “fake news” will arrive April 1 on newsstands and online at TheRectangle.org. Recent years can be viewed there, and most historic issues are available on the website of the Drexel Archives, keyword “joke issue.”
This article was written by Kim Post, an undergraduate student in the College of Arts and Sciences and co-chief copy editor of The Triangle. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.