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From the Archives: The old and the new of the Keenan Revue

, , and | Monday, February 10, 2020

Diane Park | The Observer

What happens when the residents of Keenan Hall decide to put on a show? Well, it depends on the year. Since the first Keenan Revue, the Knights have combined their eclectic talents in a variety of ways. The only constants seem to be a packed audience and a night to remember. 

The Archives team delved into the origin of various Keenan Revue traditions. This week, we present some of the ways the revue has changed and stayed the same over the years.

“The New Keenan Revue” lays groundwork for humor to come

Oct. 9, 1976 | Katie Kerwin | Researched by Nia Sylva

Founded in 1976, the Keenan Revue is a nearly 50-year-old annual tradition. But according to Observer writer Katie Kerwin, not all that much has changed.

The first Revue, then called “The New Keenan Revue,” was effectively a variety show. Though the show boasted a number of distinct acts and a “startling, but solid range of talent,” music — especially vocal performances — took center stage, Kerwin said.

Jim Moster | The Observer
Observer archives, Oct. 9, 1979

Despite the preponderance of musical acts, Kerwin said the performers had plenty of humor in store for the audience.

“The Keenan Revue News” — now practically a Revue tradition — “left no stone unturned, as it ridiculed almost every sacred ND institution,” she said. 

Another comedy act, “Nothing Like a Dame,” provided a “parody commentary” of co-education at Notre Dame — though Kerwin did not divulge specifics. Similar acts would make almost annual appearances in years to come.

Perhaps the most striking continuity can be found in Kerwin’s characterization of the event as a whole. 

“Keenan has set a new standard in innovative forms of campus entertainment,” Kewrin said. “[The hall has] demonstrated that it has … a large reserve of talent and organizational abilities.”

Perhaps it is this innovative entertainment that keeps students coming back in droves.

Revue organizer discusses spirit of the event

Dec. 9, 1986 | David T. Marcantuono | Researched by Adriana Perez

As the 11th anniversary of the Keenan Revue approached, the show’s business manager, David Marcantuono (’88), wrote a letter to the editor on behalf of the Keenan Knights explaining the mission of the event and why admission is free. 

To Marcantuono, the Revue is an oasis of entertainment during the dreary winter — a time of year “when the campus seems to be at a social low.” During the “winter doldrums,” Marcantuono wrote, “it seems as though there’s really not much to do except study.” Its no wonder, then, that thousands of students to trudge through the snow and merciless cold to attend the event each year, he said.

The Revue is Keenan’s “gift” to the Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s College community, and for that reason, admission will always be free.

The show’s timeless popularity seems to be a testament to the around-the-clock work that Keenanites have put in since the beginning of their annual tradition, Marcantuono wrote. This year, brainstorming for the show started over winter break. Nearly as soon as the semester began, Keenan’s writers held day-long skit tryouts and planned the event’s logistics. 

Marcantuono’s letter does reveal one key difference, however — at the time, the show lasted three-and-a-half hours; in recent memory, runtime has averaged around two. But no matter the show’s length, the revue’s goal has remained the same: in Marcanturo’s words, to highlight the “side of ND/SMC life which can’t help but make us laugh.” According to him, the Revue is Keenan’s “gift” to the Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s College community, and for that reason, admission will always be free.

15th Keenan Revue aims for ‘kinder, gentler’ tone

Feb. 1, 1991 | Robyn Simmons and Alison Cocks | Researched by Mary Steurer

For its 15th year, Keenan Hall vied for a rebrand. Performers prefaced the show by telling the audience to expect a “kindler, gentler” tone, according to Accent writers Robyn Simmons and Alyson Cocks.

Jim Moster | The Observer
Observer archives, Feb. 1, 1991

The unbridled use of crude humor and stereotyping is a staple of college sketch humor. This is something the Revue has always seemed unapologetic about. So why the sudden shift? Simmons and Cocks don’t say, but pressure from the University or audience complaints come to mind. Perhaps the Knights just wanted to try something different. Or maybe it was all part of the act.

Still, Simmons and Cocks’ review hints that the show was far from family-friendly. The show ran an entire act about Saint Mary’s and Notre Dame women competing for Notre Dame men — a stereotype which has long been used to humiliate students on both sides of the street. There were also two sketches on the Persian Gulf War, “U.N. Interpreter” and “Baghdad Cafe.” It’s hard to imagine either being kind or gentle.

Nonetheless, Simmons and Cocks found the Revue tamer than years past, saying the show’s typical rolodex of stereotypes had been, for the most part, done away with.

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About Jim Moster

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About Adriana Perez

Adriana is a Notre Dame senior from Guayaquil, Ecuador, majoring in political science and minoring in the Gallivan Program of Journalism, Ethics and Democracy. She is currently serving as Editor-in-Chief of The Observer for the 2021-2022 term. You can find her at @adrianamperezr on Twitter.

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About Mary Steurer

Mary is a senior sociology major and journalism minor from St. Louis. An aspiring religion reporter, Mary has spent the last year covering conversations about the Catholic Church sex abuse crisis at Notre Dame.

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