Book Simple: Economists Aren’t Nearly As Funny As Wodehouse May18

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Book Simple: Economists Aren’t Nearly As Funny As Wodehouse


a life-in-books by Amy Brown

This weekend I had to do something I didn’t want to do.  Every year, the UCLA Economics Department puts on a skit party in an effort to emulate other, higher ranked academic departments.  Why don’t I like to go?  Take a look at the following.  This is what economists think is funny:

Yeah.  Picture that but with lower production values.  That was from Stanford’s economics department, a department of a private university with a $12.6 billion endowment.  UCLA can’t afford dry erase markers.  Need more proof that skit parties are the opposite of fun?  Lose ten minutes of your life to Columbia’s skit.

I had to go to the skit party because I missed my friend Marc’s birthday.  Marc is finishing up his dissertation, and dissertation writing requires lots and lots of party breaks.  When asked what I could do to make up for my absence, Marc cheerfully replied, “Come to the skit party!  We can celebrate there!”

Cuthbert Banks would have sympathized with me.  The eponymous hero of P.G. Wodehouse’s 1922 collection of golf vignettes accidentally knocks a ball into a meeting of the Wood Hills Literary and Debating Society.  The accident causes Banks to discover Adeline Smethurst, who stood out from the other club members “like a jewel in a pile of coke.”  Cuthbert is immediately smitten, but upon applying for the fair Adeline’s hand, he discovers she requires an intellectual man, a man, perhaps, who is a member of the Literary Society.  So Cuthbert agrees to join.

“Even as [Cuthbert] spoke the words his leg was itching to kick himself for being such a chump, but the sudden expression of pleasure on Adeline’s face soothed him…  It was only in the cold, grey light of the morning that he realized what he had let himself in for.”  The same horrible discovery awaited me.  Sunday morning brought with it the nauseated realization that I’d promised, and would have to attend the skit party after three years of escape.  At least I wasn’t a first year, to whom the faculty present the party as yet another assignment in a long string of miserable all-nighters.

Nonetheless, Cuthbert’s situation is worse than mine.  I only had to watch twenty-one-year-olds humiliate themselves.  Cuthbert has to watch the woman he loves fawn over another man – the local novelist, considered more Russian than the Russians.  “One glance at Mr. Devine would have been more than enough for Cuthbert; but Adeline found him a spectacle that never palled.  She could not have gazed at him with a more rapturous intensity if she had been a small child and he a saucer of ice-cream.”

Cuthbert seethes, and just as he readies to escape from his agonies back to the links, the Society is visited by Vladimir Brusiloff, an actual Russian writer.  Brusiloff’s affection for golf works in about the same manner as the UCLA Economics Department’s free beer at the skit party – salvaging Cuthbert’s love life and an otherwise disastrous afternoon.

To be fair, the first years did quite an admirable job in their skit, toeing the difficult line between poking fun at their professors and not angering them.  Other classes have not managed that quite as well, causing rifts that still remain between certain short-of-stature professors and lanky graduate students who mocked them.  That stupid party is a world of awkward.

Just for “fun,” Harvard’s skit from 2009.  Evidently, Harvard and Columbia share the same stupid taste in music as in jokes.

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