Everyone knows Carter Bays ’97, Emmy-nominated co-creator, writer, and executive producer (with Craig Thomas ’97) of How I Met Your Mother, went to Wesleyan. The guy won’t let you forget it: the show’s riddled with Wes references, from fictional alumni to shout-outs to “McConaughey Dining Hall” (whose demolition, by the way, Bays avidly supported—go figure).
Far fewer know how he got his start in comedy writing: before HIMYM, and before his first post-Wes day job with The Late Show with David Letterman, Bays served a brief but memorable stint as editor of the Ampersand. (Naturally, this means I, too, will conveniently waltz into a nationally successful television career upon graduation. Thanks, fate.) Last year the Argus‘s HIMYM Diaries column dredged up a few amusing selections from Bays’ Amper tenure. When he finally granted the interview, the producer expressed embarrassment: “I just can’t read that stuff again.”
And he’s right: some of it kind of sucks. During an Argus archeology dig, I happened upon this intriguing apology from Bays to the Wesleyan community, printed in the 1994 Ampersand. His crime: “a number of people have taken offense to the articles printed in last week’s Ampersand,” which Bays concedes to have been “a study in low motivation, high stress, and lack of inspiration.” [Here’s one of the distasteful articles Bays is apologizing for. Tangentially, here’s an inexplicable Beastie Boys-themed issue.] Here, over a decade before achieving significant success as a professional humor writer, 19-year-old Bays lays bare his less-than-cogent philosophy of humor:
But the Ampersand is a humor page, which raises different issues. For humor, in the realm of journalism, is never raw truth; it is a version of the truth, a refraction of the truth, an extension of the truth. But it is the same truth that hurts us—it is only presented from a different perspective. Truth, in the medium of humor, can be like a fire—it is warm and comforting at a distance; but up close, it burns. A relevant example is torture. For the past semester, we have been running pictures of torture methods of the Spanish Inquisition. Nobody has complained as of yet, because the Spanish Inquisition happened a long time ago.
Yes, I’ve lost sleep over this. But I also believe, very strongly, that the human mind is more powerful than the written word; and if we are going to be offended, hurt, or angered by anything in this world, it should be by the terrible actions, not the terrible words.
It’s an intriguing defense, but not one I can see CBS’s execs accepting if HIMYM were to lurch in this direction—amiright?[For full apology, go here. For more on the “Ampersand Offends Everyone” front, go here or here or—my absolute favorite ever—here. For an amusing anecdote involving 18-year-old Carter Bays, the Wesleyan waitlist, and 50 or so postcards, read The Gatekeepers.]