The role of the Fool has deep origins in human society. In the past, kings and queens recognized the value—really, the necessity—of appointing Fools who would speak openly and even festively of uncomfortable matters that would otherwise proliferate and fester. By breaking the spell of caution, timidity, and fear that held others under its power, Fools dissipated and dispelled a society’s accumulation of bad luck. Composed of the world’s strangest blend of wisdom and nonsense this tradition fell into disrepair because of a mistaken notion that Fools were no longer needed in democracies.
In the mid-1970s, a graduate student named Patty Nelson (who would soon acquire the providentially silly surname “Limerick”) undertook to restore and reactivate this important social role. When she declared her candidacy for the position of Yale University Fool, this historic occasion earned recognition in The New York Times and The International Herald-Tribune. In the early 1980s, with her national and international reputation for folly secured, Patty Limerick easily rose to the top of the Fool Pool at Harvard, and then, soon after her relocation to Boulder, at the University of Colorado.
In an illustrated talk on April Fool’s Day 2015, Limerick will review nearly four decades of adventure and misadventure as a self-confessed, officially appointed, highly credentialed Fool. The reminiscing will lead to reflections on the value of humor in reducing social tension and friction and in imagining creative solutions to the problems of and the pressures on higher education.
Extraordinary cupcakes will be served, and recognition will be given to the writers of the best limericks celebrating the innumerable ways that Fools serve and improve society. This event will announce and launch the new “Center of the American West’s Humor Initiative” in an appropriately eccentric and laughable manner.
The Center of the American West’s Humor Initiative was created to celebrate those individuals whose temperaments support the central conviction of the Center of the American West: a dose of good humor is essential to constructive public discussion, and not coincidentally, to public health. Its centerpiece is the Distinguished Visiting Fool for a Day Award that will be presented once a year on the CU Boulder campus.