I thought about taking you on a date and bringing you flowers and making you feel really uncomfortable. I thought about doing a drug deal in front of you, just to see how you would react.” Alexis Wilkinson also had nobler dreams of visiting MoMA, but the museum closes at 5:30 on Saturdays, we’re all the way downtown, and the fresh slush piles will add at least fifteen minutes to the trip. So the 21-year-old Harvard junior proposes a more realistic plan: happy hour. “Get ready, because I’ve got a lot of traveling to do,” she warns. “This is going to be an ecstatic hour, if I can manage it.”
As the cab heads east on Grand Street, Wilkinson describes her hectic schedule. Back in December, the economics major was elected president of the Harvard Lampoon, the 138-year-old comedy magazine that doubles as a feeder into writers’ rooms for The Simpsons, Parks and Recreation, and late-night shows. Wilkinson will be the first black woman to ever run the overwhelmingly white, male Lampoon. (Notable alumni: John Updike, George Plimpton, Conan O’Brien, Simon Rich.) She suddenly had to make time for the resultant media interest, which started right in the middle of Harvard finals. This is a well-earned 5 p.m. drink.
After some fumbling with Google Maps, Wilkinson, who is wearing ballet flats (with socks) despite the snow, successfully navigates us to Verlaine, a Lower East Side bar with rectangular-potted plants and a Haim soundtrack. She orders a litchi martini, removes her coat, and begins mocking her own sweatshirt. “How am I supposed to get dudes to buy me drinks in a ‘Peanuts’ sweatshirt? Guys with low credit scores are gonna buy me drinks, and I am not about that life.” Wilkinson claims not to be a performer, but ten minutes in her presence disproves this. She is clearly enjoying the newfound exposure—especially when it’s based on misinformation. For example: Certain websites reported that her newly elected vice-president, Eleanor Parker, is also black, which Parker is not. “But there’s an idea now that it’s all-black-girl Lampoon. And I kind of want to keep that as a thing.” Wilkinson begins to laugh. “We’re all girls, and we’re all black, and we just snuck up on you.”
In actuality, she campaigned. (Her response to a question about slogans: “Alexis Wilkinson: She’s Black All Right!”) The Lampoon election process largely comes down to seniority, she says—and who is the most willing to be sued. “When I ran, I actually said, ‘Having a black woman president either means that we will be unsuable or the most-sued organization of all time. So let’s find out!’ ” She was surprised by her victory but also genuinely honored, and she hopes that it will draw more women and people of color to the Lampoon, an institution she clearly loves.
“I remember when I first started—it’s a very weird thing to look around and see the people who are critiquing your writing and it’s all guys, and especially for me, it’s all white guys. You can’t help but feel, Am I in the wrong place? So I hope it gets people to think of the Lampoon in a different way.”
We start talking about Saturday Night Live, which hired one black female cast member and two black female writers last week after a very public debate about its lack of diversity, and about comedy diversity in general. She mentions that she is currently the only writer of color on the Lampoon staff, and then pauses to check that fact. “I’m really just going through the Rolodex of staff members being like, ‘White, white, white, whitest …’ ” (She’s one of four.)
Wilkinson wishes more attention were paid to writers’ rooms. “Performers are easy. You can see them, you can count them. Here are the brown ones, here are the non-brown ones. But even if I had a cast full of brown people, if there are only white people or only men in the writers’ room, what kind of show are we going to have? What kind of roles are these people going to be given to play?”
A second martini is ordered, and Wilkinson starts plotting the rest of her night. She’s supposed to grab dinner with some Lampoon people, and then a friend is driving her to Philadelphia in time for a 7 a.m. flight to L.A. (“I was going to take the bus at 1 a.m., but he was like, ‘You’ll get shanked.’ ”) She’ll spend the next month living in North Hollywood, interning for a production company and meeting people who she hopes will one day hire her for a television show, produce her screenplay, or give her any other sort of writing-related work. She refuses to state a preference. “I want a job.” Okay, but if she had to pick. “We’re losing the thesis, the thesis being … Alexis wants a job. I take euros, cashier’s checks, even bitcoin now. If you believe in the bitcoin, I believe in the bitcoin.”
Before she heads out—to a friend’s place in the East Village to change that sweatshirt—I ask Wilkinson to name a Lampoon piece she’s particularly proud of. The loud bar music seems to cut out as she says, definitively, “Sperm Flavors.” She liked it because it was disgusting, she says, but also because “whenever I can do something from a female point of view, which it is, and have people overwhelmingly relate to it, that makes me happy.” Was there a particular sperm flavor she found funniest? “Raspberry!” she yells, and then the president-elect sees an opportunity. “No … you’ll have to get the issue.”