Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Editors’ Note: This piece was edited post-publication at the request of performers who appeared in the piece.
Ben Starr has one of the finest voices Swarthmore has to offer. He practices regularly in the Lang Concert Music Hall, and is a member of the Swarthmore Mariachi Band and the Trinity church choir.
“It’s so hard. Yeah, I said, it’s so hard! I go to my room and I do cock push-ups. Yeah!” he sang, reaching a crescendo towards the end of each phrase.
Starr displayed his mastery of light-hearted boyhood humor last Friday night at the Spike Stand-up Comedy Jam. He toed the line between the fart-joke humor of high school, and mixed those sentiments with the more age-appropriate sexual humor that pervaded the night.
“I joined the army, and they made me do 1,000 cock push-ups instead of peeling potatoes. It’s so hard on the hardwood floor, lying on the ground, jacking each other off,” he sang.
Starr’s performance was one of the more unique routines at the show. The other six acts followed the traditional format of stand-up comedy, except for Stephan Graf’s performance, which was a seated ‘show-n-tell’ act.
Graf explored a Schadenfreudic side of comedy.
“What does Swarthmore do to me? Well, it makes me sad. So I thought I would talk behind some people’s backs, for nostalgia – and why not do it in front of all of you?” Graf said.
He proceeded to present photographs of “friends” from back home, exposing shocking histories and embarrassing stories. Midway through his performance, he said he was starting to feel better.
“So that’s how I remember [her/him/them],” he said after each story, using the catchphrase in a style reminiscent of Larry the Cable Guy.
Peter Liebenson was the first comic on stage. He jumped into character and never looked back. Depending on the criteria used to judge Liebenson, his act was either daringly bold or painfully thoughtless. He certainly had some of the audience cracking up. However, he certainly was the cause behind an entire row of irritated students getting up and leaving the auditorium in protest.
After bashing Kemp Hall Liebenson moved on to Coming Out Week.
“You know, you can write any homophobic slur and everyone accepts it. So last year, I wrote, ‘Just because I have two penises doesn’t mean I want to f—- someone with two vaginas,” Liebenson said.
Although he claimed he chalked the line in jest, Liebenson was not surprised to have heard that people found the chalking “very moving,” he said, mocking a narrow-mindedness he believes, permeates the event.
Nothing was off limits. After calling Ethiopian food an oxymoron, and revealing the correlation between sex offenders and homes that offer the best candy on Halloween, Liebenson pushed the limits when he bashed ‘The Clothesline Project,’ a national project with active participation at Swarthmore. The project is primarily concerned with “breaking the silence” about “violence against women” often in the form of sexual or mental abuse.
Liebenson posed the question, ‘what should be done with the t-shirts used for the project?’ His suggestion: send them to an orphanage for kids with Down syndrome. Before Liebenson had finished flipping through a cygnet he had pulled out of his pants, rummaging through the pages for a person to “give my AIDS to,” the audience had become noticeably on edge, and students had removed themselves in protest, waiting outside for the next act.
“Ok Peter, I think I am going to have to break up with you on Facebook,” the host told the audience after Liebenson finished. And she did so promptly.
Jon Schaefer showcased his talents by ridiculing a Dora the Explorer piÃ±ata.
“You know, first you look at it at you say, ‘Oh, that’s pretty innocuous, it’s just a piÃ±ata.’ But then, think of that in the context of race relations. You’ve got a little Mexican girl, and you’re filling her insides with candy. Then, you tie her to a tree and encourage an angry little mob of kids to beat her with sticks and consume her insides,” he said, showing a thoughtful display of satirical wit.
Thereafter, Fletcher Wortmann brought some fire to the stage, starting off by criticizing Swarthmore. He illustrated his feelings through a faux-conversation with a prospective student.
“She asked me, ‘How do you feel about Swarthmore?”
Wortmann responded by comparing Swarthmore to Marquis de Sade’s “120 days of Sodom.”
In a critical analysis, he described the Swarthmore social dynamic in terms of an extended metaphor based on a dreadful ecological imbalance.
“You’ve got your wolves keeping the rabbits in check,” he said, describing a healthy balance in the real world.
In contrast, the situation at Swarthmore is analogous to rescuing all of the rabbits from their properly hostile environment, and relocating them to a place safe from predators.
“Here, it’s like you’ve got all the geeks and the kids that weren’t popular running wild. Who will keep them in check?” he said.
Possible “wolves” on campus included fellow comic Brendan Work, a brother of the Delta Upsilon fraternity, although Wortmann immediately disqualified that prospect, because “the frats are absolutely adorable, doing community service and being decent.”
One of the last acts of the night was a newcomer to the field, Gazette editor and columnist Lauren Stokes.
Brazenly honest, Stokes stepped up to the microphone and found her niche making light of sexual escapades during her past summer in Germany. She described fooling around with Jewish boys, and consequently killing their sperm as “having a Holocaust inside me,” attempted self-deprecation when she mistakenly found herself in bed with a Hitler idolizer, and touched on the theme of awkwardness when she flirted with a man who later revealed himself as a professor at Haverford College.
Stokes unabashedly referred to her “c—t” about as often as Senator McCain referred to ‘Joe the Plumber.’ She even once referred to the Deutschland as “My C—try!”
In a gauntlet of judgment, all comics were able to make it through the night with their sanity intact, even if their ego might have been slightly bruised.