Controversy flares from historical photographs of Hippodrome skits published in a spring publication of the Student Activities Council.
As Wichita State students were putting the finishing touches on their Hippodrome skits, the Student Activities Council was embroiled in controversy.
The Times, SAC's spring calendar of events, featured a collage of images from past Hippodrome performances. Included were historical photos of white students in blackface as well as a portrayal of Hitler and a swastika.
This is certainly not the first time Hippodrome has been shrouded in controversy — or confusion. Start with the name: Hippodrome, which originally referred to an arena for circus games, at Wichita State refers to a week of activities culminating with an annual skit competition.
So far, no confusion. But Hippodrome at WSU has nothing to do with circuses and nothing to do with hippos, despite the fact that the official mascot has been Huxley the Hippo since 1989. And while 2003 is billed as Hippodrome’s 75th anniversary, even that “fact” is in question.
Before 1986, Hippodrome was credited as beginning in 1912 as part of the May Day celebration that year. Hippodrome’s original sponsor was the YWCA, which offered a $10 first-place prize for a stunt competition.
But after some circa-1986 detective work, it was revealed that 1928, the first year that a sponsored skit competition took place, marks the first official Hippodrome. Adding to the confusion over the origins of Hippodrome is the 1987 playbill, which states, “In the past, it was thought that this was the 75th year for Hippodrome, but we have now found out that it is only around the 70th.”
But do the math: the distance between 1928 and 1987 is 59 years.
Truth be told, start dates and anniversaries have been the least of Hippodrome organizers’ and sponsors’ worries through the years — forget about how many years there have actually been.
Having been blasted for content by, at various times, university administrators, members of the Student Government Association and spectators themselves, organizers now often post signs at the theater box office warning that content may not be suitable for all audiences.
Never known to be politically correct, the skits have inspired reddened faces almost as often as sore ribs.
Blackface, an ugly relic of the stage during and after the era of segregation, was incorporated into some sketches up until the 1960s; gays were often depicted as overly flamboyant, blondes as vapid and buxom, and foreigners as inept.
And in the mid-80s, some audience members groaned and the dean of students later questioned the “appropriateness” of Kappa Sigs presenting rival Pikes with the “Big Dick” award by tossing a four-foot papier-mâché penis into the first row of spectators.
Hippodrome supporters argue that, despite its excesses, Hippodrome only does what comedy has always done — serve as a mirror of the times.
Television shows such as Saturday Night Live and SCTV often offend audiences but also provide insightful glimpses into social realities.
And so Hippodrome has as well. In 1969, the Gamma Phi Beta sorority won first place for a skit titled, “Bo White and the Seven,” about a woman on an acid trip who meets some hippies and gets high with them. When streaking was popular in the 1970s, a WSU student followed suit by not wearing one.
The have-it-all ’80s produced skits with greed, power and corruption as main themes. And through it all, no one has ever been safe from defamation, not athletic directors, alumni association directors, campus fund-raisers — not even WSU President Armstrong, who became President Strongarm in more than one skit.
For better or worse, for however many years, Hippodrome is a Wichita State tradition, one that is likely to continue inspiring — and revolting — members of the WSU community for decades to come.
Seven Stunningly Apoliticallycorrect Sketches
Here’s a sampling of some of the more infamous sketch titles from Hippodromes past. Judging from the titles, it won’t take much imagination to figure out what the attendant flap was all about on these seven. And as much as we here at The Shocker hate to end lists on an odd number, we figure it’ll inspire some past Hippodrome attendees to help us complete our list by sharing their memories with us. Jeff Gates ’98/98 did — and look what we uncovered:
1. Genital Hospital
A not-ready-for-day-time production, to be sure.
2. Raiders of the Lost Fart
Suffice it to say, it probably wasn’t a boulder that Indiana Jones was running from.
3. Boneapussy (after the James Bond film Octapussy)
No doubt this left audiences shaken and stirred.
4. Yoder Vice
This involved an undercover cop and a Yoder cinnamon roll laced with cocaine. We bet that could have inspired a few rock stars to turn up as guest stars.
5. The Lone Rainger
A masked man? Try Rainman. Definitely a favorite.
6. Bonanza: The Next Generation
Someone wanted to buy the syndication rights to Bonanza. How do you stop them? Turning the Ponderosa into a Bonanza steak house seems like a natural beginning, doesn’t it?
7. Start Trek IV: The Voyage to Homecoming
When homecoming was canceled, the Hippodrome crew did the only logical thing they could — and set their humor phasers to stun.