The Revue in review
Charlie Ducey | Monday, February 15, 2016
As an active participant in only one installment of the Keenan Revue (and an in-person attendee of two others), it’s going to be hard for me to render any kind of justice to the now 40-year-old tradition of talent and satire for which Keenan Hall is well-known. I won’t be able to provide much insight into the history of comedy and controversy the Revue has raised, nor will I be able to comment on what it feels like to dedicate months of preparation to its planning and funding. But I can offer a review, from both an outsider and insider position, of what the Revue means to me and what I think is its gift to the Notre Dame community.
It would be easy, but in no way untrue, to repeat what I have heard others say about the meaning of Keenan’s annual comedy event. Within the dorm, the Revue brings together hundreds of men (this is no exaggeration) to perform in capacities that are alternatively sweat-inducing, laugh-generating and awe-inspiring — I mean, have you ever seen several human pyramids of underwear-clad men performing synchronized pushups before? The enterprise of putting on a show of this magnitude unites the creative spirit of the dorm certainly, yet it also serves the wider community in ways both obvious and unexpected.
Here, again, I feel the need to use words other than own. During the Friday performance of the Revue, the original creators of the show, Thomas Lenz and Richard Thomas, spoke about the impetus behind the event. They shared this story with The Observer (and Newsweek):
“One of our classmates — he was hit by a car coming back from Michigan after having been at a bar,” Lenz told The Observer last week. “It was one of those really shocking and sobering moments for our dorm, to really consider the role that alcohol played at a lot of social events and in the dorm’s life. That was kind of the context for people saying, ‘Okay, so getting wasted every weekend is one thing to do, but what else could the dorm do that would contribute to the growth of the dorm spirit and to the health of the community?’”
Community growth and engagement was the way Noel Terranova (Keenan rector and formerly unclaimed bachelor) framed the broader purpose of the Revue. This is true. With skits about the superficiality of campus diversity, not to mention the dubious paternity of Kylo Ren, the show is bound to incite conversation. I’m not sure if an irate series of Tweets about the cis-normative, white, male patriarchy is the kind of engagement Noel had in mind — oh, how they have played right into our hands — but I’m a believer in the adage that bad feedback is better than no feedback at all. I might need to pop a few Cultura before I offend anybody, though.
This leads me to the personal impact of the Revue. I first saw the Revue as a groveling, freshman resident of Alumni Hall, back before my turncoat days. It was February, probably, but who’s expected to remember anything lucid from the iced-over blur that was the winter of 2013? Snow was not my thing. School was, similarly, not really my thing. I’m not about to tell some sob-story about how the Revue changed my life, but what it did afford me was the stark realization that Notre Dame could actually be, well, fun. And funny. And side-shakingly hilarious.
Amid the talk of social change and the pressure of nearly constant examination, whether by professors or peers or potential employers, it can easy to forget the joy of good comedy. I’m not so much talking about the isolated humor of watching an episode of SNL in your dorm room. I mean comedy experienced personally. I watched a student-made documentary recently in which an Notre Dame comedian questioned why Notre Dame students — and I think college students more broadly — have to take themselves so seriously. The remarks had less to do with criticizing ambition and more to do with acknowledging the self-importance that arises from the inability to laugh at oneself.
Self-mockery, of Notre Dame students and Keenan Knights, lies at the core of the Revue. It reminds us of the folly involved in much of what we do and brings to mind the lighter-hearted side of university life. I had the privilege of taking part in this humorous reminder last week. I’d like to thank my fellow Keenanites for that fine honor. If we jarred a few people who take themselves too seriously, good on you. Here’s to 40 more years of the Keenan Revue and then some.
Let the show go on.
Charlie Ducey waxes poetic without warrant, but who needs a warrant to write poetry? He studies English and German and is in his final year at Notre Dame. Please direct fan art and gripes to firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.