Joe Baerenz '17
For those of you that don’t know what “The Libel Show” is (and no one really does until they attend it once), Libel is a sketch comedy musical parody show of law school, law culture, law professors, law firms, law students, and the law generally. The show started as some kind of fraternity hazing ritual held on the Rotunda steps over a century ago (lol @ our not-so-shocking ancestry), and has since morphed into a full-scale production with a live band, a ninety-member cast, and flowing keg(s). This is the 109th Libel Show, which makes the show the oldest organization at UVa Law. It has not operated continuously, as it took a break for WWII (serious reason) and was banned for a number of years in the 1920s, apparently because students performed a skit in which a professor who was later to become the Dean participated in a shotgun wedding (he was in the process of marrying a much younger woman at the time). Gods willing, the show will not get permanently banned this year, but it is some small comfort to know that law students were definitely crossing the line some 90 years before my tenure as director.
I have always seen the show as a sort of cathartic conversation between various parties. For example, last year Professor Kim Ferzan performed “Give An ‘F’” to the tune of “Let it Go,” expressing the feelings that professors have when dealing with students who clearly didn’t give an “F.” Fortunately, professors are bound by the rules of the curve and strongly discouraged by the administration from actually failing people who turn in an exam, no matter what kind of detritus is sprawled over the ten-twenty pages that the indifferent students have produced. On the other side of it, the premise of “Cold Call Ninja” was an APALSA mentor teaching his 1L how to pretend to be an LL.M as a means of avoiding cold calls, and was based on Teddy Toyozaki’s real experiences. Incidentally, Teddy, Kevin Benedicto, and Andrew Chen (all Libel alumni) were not only confused for LL.M students, presumably owing to their Asian heritage, but were on multiple occasions confused for each other on the law school website. When a life in the law provides that kind of material, it is truly a blessing that Libel is here to satirize it.
Libel is also in conversation with the Law School administration. Last year we really went after Dean Dugas’ instructional emails, which included a lot of screenshots, no clickable links, and tended to utilize…wait for it…arrows and circles in Microsoft Paint (throwwwbaccckkk!). In a truly sporting manner, not only did Dean Dugas attend the show and laugh, but he bought the entire cast shot glasses with the word “screen” on them. Though Libel’s interactions with the administration do not always have such amicable endings, we try to restrain ourselves from being too unkind in the name of humor—you can decide how well we succeed in that. Dean Davies undoubtedly catches the worst of it (because what’s a play without a villain?) but this year we have tried (a little) to give voice to her perspective. We also go after each other pretty hard, so we at least spread the love evenly.
Libel is also a contributor to our much-lauded UVa law culture. Because it is a fairly large and random cross-section of moderately talented 1Ls, 2Ls, and 3Ls who are dedicating their time and energy to satirizing the Law School, Libel tends to have a longer institutional memory than most of the organizations in this transient place. For instance, I never would have known that the grades of everyone who applied for a clerkship in 2014 were inadvertently sent to the entire 3L class that year, or that Student Health had somehow accidentally sent out social security numbers a few years before that, or that once upon a time Dean Geis brought his classes ice cream, probably as a ploy to get good course evaluations when he was just a visiting professor from Alabama. See what kind of vitally important information Libel keeps alive?
Most of all, Libel is just plain fun. Putting 900 high-achieving twenty/thirty-somethings in a small-ish foodie town in the middle of Virginia for three years is a recipe for hijinks. I’ve often told admitted students or new 1Ls in the context of coming from a city with lots of things to do that we “make our own fun.” Libel is at once one of the ways we occupy ourselves in our spare hours and a comment on the rest of the things we manage to come up with. So expect it to be replete with references to PILA, Barristers Ball, Foxfield Races, The Biltmore, Softball Weekend, Feb Club, etc. More than just referring to those large-scale Law School events though, I would rank Libel amongst them. Even if we’re not funny (and, biased as I am, I think that we are) we are most certainly having fun, and as an audience member you should too. Despite the fact that, in the words of former Dean John Jeffries, “I’ve never seen a Libel Show that was too short,” there is baseline good value in seeing your professors impersonated well, your classmates dance around the stage, and a bunch of muscular straight dudes prance around in women’s clothing. So come to Libel 109: Libel’s Day Off, and meet (or reacquaint yourself) with the weirdest, craziest, and most amusing institution at the University of Virginia School of Law. At the risk of sounding unduly sentimental, I instantly fell in love with the show as a 1L. Whether you’re a professor, an administrator, a Law School employee, a law student, or a guest of one, I hope all of you do too.
—Joe Baerenz, Director, The 109th Libel Show