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:: By Zak Stambor

:: Photo by Dan Dry

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Chicago Journal ::

Where fun goes

A campus humor tabloid offers students in the College a respite.

One night during his first year in the College, Zachary Binney, now a fourth-year, was sitting around the Woodward House table in Bartlett Dining Commons when he realized what was missing from campus—a tabloid. The concept quickly morphed into a humor publication. A few months later, on May 25, 2005, the first issue of the Chicago Shady Dealer, the self-proclaimed “international humor publication of the University of Chicago,” was born with a headline declaring “Students and Faculty Shocked to Learn that ‘Evolution is Just a Theory, not a Fact’” and a disclaimer noting that the Dealer “is not a reliable news source.”


Have we got a Dealer for you: Former Chicago Shady Dealer editors-in-chief Ryan Uricks (left) and Zachary Binney hawk copies of the humor tabloid’s November 23 issue.

The Dealer is the latest in a long line of humor publications at Chicago. It has been preceded by nine previous official campus humor periodicals starting with 1937’s Pulse, a monthly campus news and commentary magazine that ran until 1948, and also including the Gombolier that was published monthly in 1946, the Chicago Lampoon that appeared irregularly in 1981 and 1982, and, most recently, the Joybuzzer in 1989. But “there hasn’t been one for a while,” says Binney, “So we said, ‘Why not?’and just ran with it.”

The first year only about six students regularly attended editorial meetings, yet the threadbare staff managed to produce 12 issues. Since then the masthead has grown significantly—meetings typically attract around 20 students and at least 30 students and faculty have contributed throughout the past academic year—even as the Dealer reduced its output to ten issues a year. The net result, says Binney, is a better product. “As we’ve gotten more established,” he says, “we look more professional.”

With each issue, the paper, which comes out every three weeks, follows a simple formula: the staff meets every Sunday in Harper 141. The first two weeks after an issue they brainstorm ideas and “let the organic process arise,” says Binney. If a piece is political or complicated, the writer may have to research a few names and details, says fourth-year Sarah Pickman, the managing editor, but if it’s campus-related, they typically start writing right away. When they finish their articles, writers post their copy into Google Docs, where second-year Connor O’Steen, the editor-in-chief, can look it over and make a few tweaks, before sending it to the staff copyeditors who check for grammar, punctuation, and spelling. Then a week before the issue goes to press, contributors bring in their edited articles, and everyone tries to come up with another joke or a new angle.With each article, “we gauge the audience’s reaction,” says Binney. “If we don’t think it’s funny, readers won’t either.” After the articles are finalized, Kathryn Burger, ’10, and Adam Petterson, ’10, the staff page designers, do the layout. Once printed, Binney, O’Steen, and others hand out some of the 1,250 copies across campus. They place the remaining copies amid piles of the Maroon, the Chicago Weekly, and assorted campus publications in Bartlett Commons, Harper Library, and other University hotspots.

The Dealer represents a break from the popular conception that Chicago is a place “Where fun goes to die,” says Pickman. “As much as I love the University it can be very depressing, especially when the cold weather sets in; you’re stuck indoors with a lot of work to do, and you can’t break out of the perspective that you have a lot on our shoulders,” she says. “It’s good to have an outlet to have something to lift your day a little bit and get a laugh.”

O’Steen agrees, noting that the Dealer “fulfills a certain part of my personality that the rest of my life on campus doesn’t,” he says. He’s not alone. Many, if not most, of the contributors had never done humor writing before the Dealer, and most have majors and interests wholly unrelated to the paper’s content.

By maintaining open meetings, the Dealer seeks to provide an outlet for viewpoints that aren’t often voiced, says O’Steen. “The Dealer casts a spotlight on certain things about Chicago—the way we view ourselves, the way we view the administration,” he says, before pausing, perhaps thinking he’s taking himself too seriously. “But in the end, it is what it is—we’re a humor magazine. If someone gets a laugh out of it, that may be all that really matters.”