Jean Shepherd, hailed by many as the "leading Satirist of the Underground," gave some personal observations last Friday [February 3rd] of "that great appendage to Manhattan Island:" Muhlenberg College. Before a packed student assembly in Memorial Hall, he calculated, then diagnosed his listeners from the vantage point of a "native to civilization," a sojourner from a sublime place (New York City) where society and God pay daily public avowal.
If he seemed extremely biased to Manhattan Island during his brief appearance, it was because he wanted to master that expression at the time. Shepherd spoke extemporaneously, gathering little morsels of satire while en route to Muhlenberg.
When he spoke of the crud settling gently "over the merry swamps" of New Jersey, we cannot question him further. The character analogous to "Shep" saw it. And when he envisioned dead birds gliding aimlessly above the Garden State amidst the "sultry crud," we graciously accepted it.
Shepherd exudes more than fun. Behind the facade of savage wit that attracts a devoted 27-state audience each night over WOR Manhattan radio, bubbles a warm medium of thought, true purpose and "serious" analyzation.
As Mr. Shepherd is carefully scrutinized by the observer during a casual conversation, the first impression we receive is the entertainer's provocative sincerity and honesty. Through his close association with publisher Hugh Hefner and Playboy magazine, Shepherd articulated the difference between "Hefner's Empire" and other magazines that have long endured the tag of "socially acceptable" and the "Good Housekeeping seal" in American society. "I have never known Hef' to write anything in Playboy that he didn't honestly believe in."
His comments on Vogue and The New Yorker ran somewhat different to the above statement. "Those guys on The New Yorker sound like they're knitting little doilies for their readers. It's a big joke. John O'Hara told me he submitted one article eight times and each time they sent it back for revision." He went on to say that the author finally gave up and told them to write it themselves. Several weeks later, O'Hara saw a text that faintly resembled a topic he had written previously, lacking all the forceful elements of its original being.
Shepherd's biting satire, then, must be seen through the spectrum of
sincere desires and unpretentious passions. He stands for the crusaders of truth, "the saying-something crowd," and attacks the small-time hypocrites that think culturally depraved Philadelphia is anything more than Allentown to the third power.
Shepherd remarked that he prefers Al Capp humor to that of his close associate Jules Feiffer. This is pure honesty, a common trademark to all those who know Mr. Shepherd. Unlike so many in his field, he isn't satirical for the sake of comedy. There is an underlying purpose, a motive, always, behind his hilarious glimpses of the world.