“I was very obnoxious when I was younger,” Alexis Wilkinson cackled on the other end of the phone, as I prepared to interview her about the obvious–being the first Black president of Harvard’s Lampoon. I think I was more excited to be chatting with Wilkinson as she was to be in such a high position at the Harvard’s legendary 138-year-old humor publication. Within five minutes of our chat, we were gabbing away as if I was one of Wilkinson’s classmates at Harvard (yeah right).
Wilkinson has become the chief steward of a mostly White male publication and she says that she’s not here to be the “Malcolm X” of the Lampoon, to demand change, but just her mere presence at the publication is enough to catalyze at least a breath of fresh air. “The way staff is now–people are really open to new ideas while keeping Lampoon’s spirit alive,” Wilkinson said of offering change to Lampoon. She laughed and continued, “I mean, I grew up in Wisconsin, which is 95 % White, so I’m used to being the token and I know how to handle myself.”
After gushing over meeting Tina Fey and saying something surely “nonsensical,” Wilkinson and I connected on several topics, including, wanting to be the comedic Shonda Rhimes, the necessity of gender and racial diversity in comedy and what she plans on doing when she leaves Harvard.
HelloBeautiful: What does it mean for you to be the first Black woman president at Lampoon?
Alexis Wilkinson: To me, it’s more of a reflection of the way that Lampoon has changed. And that’s why, despite my hating to do interviews, I thought it was important for people to know how much this place has changed. A person like me–a person of color and a woman who does not come from an entertainment background at all and no connection to Harvard or the Lampoon before I got here, can get to this position.
HB: Do you feel like the token Black girl?
AW: [laughs] I’ve been a token all my life. I don’t feel like a token in the sense that I wasn’t elected because I was a Black woman. That wasn’t something I ran on or something anyone was thinking about. I was prepared to lose. I am the only Black woman at the Harvard Lampoon. I never felt like a total outsider because everyone works really hard to make me feel like I’m part of the gang.
HelloBeautiful: What was your first presidential duty at Lampoon?
AW: Besides answering emails [laughs]. One of the first things I had to takeover was the parody of The Crimson, our rivalry on campus. So, that’s one of the first things where I really felt like I’m a member on board. My decisions matter and people were saying, “Do you want to do this? Yay or nay?”
HB: What’s the biggest lesson that you’ve learned while working at Lampoon?
AW: Lampoon taught me a different way of writing, just ways of constructing a joke that are surprising. It’s not even the words that you say are funny, but it’s the way you put it together was hilarious. Whenever I can do things like that, that’s sort of my goal in making you think differently about jokes and what funny things are. Once you get off of staff, there is sort of a network there and people who are willing to give you a foot in the door that other people don’t have if they weren’t on staff. All you want as a writer is for someone to read your stuff. I’m just trying to take advantage of the huge opportunity I’ve been given. I know so many people who would kill for this opportunity.
HB: Do you think Lampoon is racist and sexist?
AW: I remember reading something someone tweeted at me and it said, ‘I don’t care if Lampoon has a Black woman president, they are still racist and sexist.’ That stung. Thank you for that constructive feedback. I will note that and write it down. It’s too big of a problem to put on one person. America is a historically racist and sexist organization. How are you supposed to fix it? Sitting around and talking about it doesn’t make it go away. Lampoon isn’t going away, unless I single-handedly destroy it. [laughs] The only way to stop it from being a potentially racist and sexist organization is to get in there, do the groundwork and not be afraid of confronting some of the ugly histories.
HB: What do you think about Jerry Seinfeld saying he doesn’t believe in gender diversity in comedy and why do you believe that there is diversity in comedy?
AW: I agree with the idea that you don’t owe anybody any race or gender on any platform that you stand on. I really think that because I’m a Black president, people felt like I had to let on every Black girl who came through the door. That’d be ridiculous. It’s one thing to say that you don’t have a personal responsibility, it’s another to say it’s not important. It is important and it’s not up to anybody else to bring every person of color on their personal program. There are White people who realize that media representation and diversity makes for better television and it makes it look like the real thing. I don’t walk around and see White guys all day, everyday. That’s just not how life looks. Ideally, I would want art to imitate life.
HB: What about Black female comedians and comedy writers? Who do you like in that space?
AW: Issa Rae. She’s so great and talented. She’s doing her thing. Just as far as show-runners, I’m obsessed with Shonda Rhimes. Seriously, my goal is to be a comedy Shonda Rhimes. “Grey’s Anatomy,” Private Practice,” “Scandal…” like, who’s done that? Nobody is doing what Shonda Rhimes is doing and she’s amazing. So, if I can emulate any sort of Black woman on the television front, it would be her. I’m still trying to figure out what avenue I want to take with this opportunity with Lampoon.
HB: What do you have planned for your career?
AW: I’m working on a screenplay. I’m writing all of the time. Working on pilots, just figuring it all out. I love late night and SNL and all that stuff. Right now, I’m preparing for brand new opportunities that come my way. I just want a job. I’m still telling myself that it’s gonna be fine.
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