Welcome to Woodmont, the best-worst college ever! Sure, they modestly bill themselves as “a mid-tier institute of higher learning for C students who can afford full tuition” but how many colleges can boast a 3-to-1 student-to-raccoon ratio? Or have given Corey Feldman an honorary degree three years in a row? Or steeply reduced their humanities programs in order to have the money to secure the rights to Starship’s “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” as their official fight song?
No, Woodmont isn’t a real place. But it is really funny. The higher education parody, written as a college catalog, was conceived by comedy writers Mike Sacks and Jason Roeder. It’s available now as an e-book titled Welcome to Woodmont College from McSweeny’s.
You can’t actually visit Woodmont’s campus—physical tours “have been temporarily paused while authorities continue their investigation into the vanishing of a high school junior who became separated from her group and was last seen at the Center for Robotic Violence.” Virtual tours are available, though, with exciting options such as “Through the Eyes of an Assistant Bursar.”
Mandatory spoke to the authors about the inspiration behind this hilarious project.
Echoes of ‘National Lampoon’
Sacks grew up liking the National Lampoon parodies, particularly their high school yearbook parody, which introduced a few Animal House characters. He also finds college catalogs unintentionally funny.
“I just thought they would be ripe for a parody,” Sacks, a contributor to Vanity Fair and The New Yorker, said. “I never had seen anything really that was college age. So, I wanted to do a strict parody that was more visually based with maps and graphs.”
Roeder’s name might not be familiar, but you’ve probably seen his work: he wrote the sadly evergreen “No Way to Prevent This, Says Only Nation Where This Happens” headline that The Onion dutifully reruns after mass shootings.
“I went to Boston University,” Roeder said, “but I also worked back in the day in the communications offices of two other colleges, where I edited catalogs just like Woodmont. So, while some of Woodmont is just kind of madness, I was able to draw on the official institutional tone from memory pretty quickly when I needed to, which is good because a parody has to be grounded in something recognizable.”
The Welcome to Woodmont College catalog is definitely recognizable, from the “Didja Know?!” factoids sprinkled throughout the college’s timeline (founder Daniel Woodmont envisioned the school while hallucinating from botulism from improperly canned plums) to the disturbingly detailed campus map.
“We went back and forth with [publisher] McSweeney’s a lot,” Sacks said, “getting the visuals right and making it look like an authentic college catalog, which was important to me, because I love anything of authenticity. I would love for people to think it was real and to come to it thinking that.”
Sacks, a Tulane graduate, said too many colleges have gotten self-serious with little tolerance for joking around.
“Part of what we wanted to poke fun at was just the ridiculousness of it all,” he said, “the fact that kids are spending $250,000 for a college education, and it doesn’t mean what it meant for other generations. It’s sort of meaningless now, especially if your major is kind of not necessary, like an art history major.”
“It’s sort of like poking fun at an industry,” Sacks continued. “It really is a money-making industry, with the spa-like gymnasiums and the safe spaces. So, there’s a lot of different ways we could satirize this world, which is really ripe for satirizing.”
One of the elements of a college catalog Sacks said he wanted to make fun of is the forced conversational tone where college administrations try to seem “relaxed and cool.”
“That’s the type of thing I love because they try to make it like they’re your friend,” Sacks said. “What you see here with these catalogs is typically they’re written by people who went to that school but have graduated years ago so they have no knowledge of what is current. So, they’re all basically going on what was kind of hip when they graduated years ago, and it’s always 10 to 15 years behind.”
Almost Like a Horror Movie
There’s also a dark undercurrent to the Woodmont catalog, with references to the “Suicide Cliffs of Belvedore” on the edge of campus, poisonous crickets, and “progressively fewer people stumbling into sewage trenches” as part of the mission statement.
“We wanted to make almost like a horror movie,” Sacks said. “This place could be a scary movie setting, with all these very dry references to things that are just really wrong with people disappearing or floating over waterfalls and never seen again or carried off by hawks.”
Both Roeder and Sacks said the reception to Woodmont has been great, with Sacks adding that it’s being “sent around the comedic stratosphere” by other comedy writers, which he finds fulfilling. Plus, Vulture named it one of the “Best Comedy Books of 2022 (So Far).”
“It’s exclusively available on the McSweeney’s site,” Roeder said, “so there aren’t any deranged Amazon reviews for me to monitor.”
Sacks and Roeder are pitching Woodmont as a TV show, so you may get to see the chaotic campus in action on the small screen. As the last page of the catalog says, over a picture of a young man holding an empty wallet, “Knowledge is priceless, never more so than when you pay for it.”