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Columbia Spectator Staff

There's a new magazine on campus, but it's actually not really new at all.

Jester, founded in 1901 as an irreverent humor magazine, went under in 1989 due to financial troubles. But now a dedicated group of students has managed to find the funding and revive the struggling periodical, launching their first issue at the end of last semester.

Editor-in-chief Sam West, CC '08, was one of the driving forces behind Jester's return.

"We felt like there was something missing in terms of absurd humor here," he said. "We wanted to do something totally off the wall, absurd, not grounded in reality at all."

With no previous publishing experience, West and a few friends held a meeting last September to recruit contributors. They then landed a $250 grant from the Activities Board at Columbia, which, in addition to $1,000 raised by a previous staffer, allowed them to independently distribute their first 28-page issue.

In its previous incarnation, Jester was published by Spectator, which continues to own the rights to the magazine. West says that he made "several attempts" to contact Spectator last September but received no response.

Spectator Editor-in-chief Steve Moncada said that the new managing board has yet to discuss its response to Jester's latest publication.

"Jester has been off the Columbia Spectator radar screen since 2002," said Moncada, who noted that he was "intrigued" when the magazine appeared on newsstands last semester.

While developing the content, Jester's staff visited the Columbiana archives in Low Library, which contain past issues in large leather-bound volumes. Certain bits, such as a 1920s cartoon of transvestites, were "incredibly controversial" in their day.

"The really old ones I found totally hilarious because of how inapplicable the humor was," said West, noting that beat poet Allen Ginsberg had been an editor in the 1940s. "The language was funnier than the actual content."

Until the reappearance of Jester, The Fed-a monthly tabloid with its own intermittent history-enjoyed the title of Columbia's only humor publication. West, who characterizes The Fed as a subversive alternative newspaper, says that Jester is not intended to be any kind of competition.

"I feel like The Fed is trying to make a point," said West. "All we're trying to do is make people laugh. There's not a special political agenda we're trying to advance."

West is also aware that what some people find funny, others find offensive. Stepping over this line-as many felt The Fed did two years ago with a cartoon parodying Black History Month-can lead to undesirable consequences.

"I think that's really important," West said. "One guideline we set for ourselves is that we didn't want to publish anything that would be hurtful."

The current issue, with the theme of "food," (potential future themes include money, health, and politics) lampoons everything from lesbians to animal rights groups, sometimes in graphic terms. West says he hasn't received negative feedback, although it might be too soon to gauge reader reaction.

For the future, West said he would like to beef up Jester's highbrow offerings.

"I'd like to see less of an emphasis on the ejaculation humor, although I think there's totally a place for that," he noted. "It's definitely skewed a little bit towards the obscene."

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