'Harvard Lampoon' Spoofs 'National Geographic'

'National Geographic' staffers spend so much time playing around with obscure insects that they've lost touch with reality, according to Harvard Lampoon editors Hayes Davenport and Ross Arbes. They hope their April Fools issue will teach people a lesson or two.

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ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

Tuesday is April 1, and if you haven't yet adopted an April Fool's scheme, you might try this: pick up a copy of the Harvard Lampoon's latest issue and mix it in with the magazines at your least favorite dentist's office, because this thing looks exactly like a copy of National Geographic.

Ross Arbes and Hayes Davenport are editors of the Harvard Lampoon. They join me from spring break in Charleston, South Carolina. Hi, guys.

Mr. HAYES DAVENPORT (Editor, Harvard Lampoon): Hi, Andrea.

Mr. ROSS ARBES (Editor, Harvard Lampoon): Hey.

Mr. DAVENPORT: Thank you so much for having us.

Mr. ARBES: Yeah, thank you so much.

SEABROOK: It's a pleasure. I guess if you did this, though, if we counsel our listeners to mix this in with the dentist office magazines, you'd want a hidden camera on them to catch people's reactions. Because when they realize that this is not a copy of National Geographic, the reaction must be very funny. Have you seen anything like this?

Mr. DAVENPORT: Well, our targets are mostly kindergarten art students.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DAVENPORT: What we're really hoping for is that they'll be working on a collage and they're take this magazine out of their pile of National Geographic in their art class. They'll learn something - something new.

SEABROOK: And, you know, I mean, the comedy is right on par with about that kindergarten level too.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DAVENPORT: That's our audience.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DAVENPORT: We have to play to our audience.

SEABROOK: For example, Hayes Davenport, there is a two-page spread in the middle of the magazine, which appears to be a picture of a lion. But, say, that kindergartener takes closer inspection of this picture and it's made up of hundreds of tiny little photos of something else National Geographic is famous for, and that is…

Mr. DAVENPORT: Right.

SEABROOK: …pictures of women's chests.

Mr. DAVENPORT: Sure. And I can tell you, Andrea, searching the Internet to find the exact combination of pictures of nude breasts that can be put together to compose a lion's head, it was a painstaking effort.

Mr. ARBES: Exhausting.

Mr. DAVENPORT: But it's sort of the idea that launched a thousand magazine parodies in a way, so it was worth the many weeks of research.

SEABROOK: And then there's this great feature article: Seeking the Island Fox. It is a dead ringer for a National Geographic feature.

Mr. DAVENPORT: Those are our favorite articles.

Mr. ARBES: A lot of the articles as we were doing research are really about explorers and scientists who really spend, like, six years studying a specific bat or a bug and have completely lost touch with reality.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ARBES: And so a lot of our articles are of the same ilk.

Mr. DAVENPORT: They send a lot of these poor guys to all these far-off lands where they immerse themselves in the country of these animals and they always end up being urinated and defecated on all over the place. And they catch a very quick glimpse of the animal they were looking for and that's, like, enough to satisfy them and they come home very proud of themselves.

SEABROOK: So, how did National Geographic respond to this? I mean, were there any worries?

Mr. ARBES: Well, initially we had sent them an email telling them that we were interested. We had emailed about five other magazines as well, and National Geographic emailed us back telling us that they were really excited about the opportunity. So we came and we met with them and Hayes and I created a PowerPoint presentation. We'd never made a PowerPoint presentation before. It was incredibly sloppy.

Mr. DAVENPORT: We printed it out. We didn't know it was supposed to be shown on a computer.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ARBES: Yeah, we printed out three copies assuming that we'd be meeting with the editor-in-chief and, like, maybe one other person. But we met with a bunch of people and we really charmed them and next them you know, here we are.

Mr. DAVENPORT: In Charleston on spring break.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DAVENPORT: (Unintelligible) came first, of course.

SEABROOK: Did they print it for you?

Mr. DAVENPORT: Yeah.

Mr. ARBES: Yeah. They printed it. They had no editorial control.

Mr. DAVENPORT: No.

Mr. ARBES: Our relationship with them was really ideal. They helped us lay out the parody. So when you look through it you'll see it looks actually surprisingly professional…

SEABROOK: But with fart jokes.

Mr. ARBES: Exactly.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ARBES: And they also helped us print it and distribute it. So it's the real deal.

SEABROOK: So what are you guys going to do next? I mean, what does one do with a career from the Harvard Lampoon.

Mr. ARBES: Hopefully we'll get…

Mr. DAVENPORT: About that, Andrea…

Mr. ARBES: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SEABROOK: I see. Yeah, NPR's really known for its humor.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SEABROOK: Ross Arbes and Hayes Davenport are the editors of the Harvard Lampoon. The April Fool's issue, a spoof on National Geographic, is on newsstands now. Thanks very much, guys.

Mr. ARBES: Thank you.

Mr. DAVENPORT: Thank you, Andrea.

SEABROOK: Have a great spring break.

(Soundbite of music)

SEABROOK: Tonight's parting words come from Czechoslovakian writer Milan Kundera. He wrote: the sound of laughter is like the vaulted dome of a temple of happiness.

And that's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Andrea Seabrook. Have a great week.

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