Richard Corcoran and David Rancourt present controversial comedy bits in off-campus ISP

Richard Corcoran and David Rancourt present controversial comedy bits in off-campus ISP

On Jan. 25, a video uploaded to Youtube by McCurdy’s Comedy, a historic theater in downtown Sarasota, documented New College Dean of Students David Rancourt’s stand-up comedy debut.  Not all New College students are laughing, however. The following article contains quotes from Rancourt’s comedy segment that may be viewed as offensive and include descriptions of sexual assault. 

The event at the theater took place as part of a January Independent Study Project (ISP). ISPs can be internships or totally original studies and activities designed by students in collaboration with their faculty sponsors. In recent years New College has favored group ISPs, non-traditional classes led by a faculty member or faculty-approved adjunct. What they have in common is that the New College curriculum mandates completion of three ISPs in order to graduate, and the January interterm is set aside for this purpose.

 The ISP titled “Rhetoric Humor Institute” was described this way in the official ISP handbook: “Come add a little humor to your life by learning the art of stand-up comedy taught by a professional headline comedian, Les McCurdy of McCurdy’s Comedy Theatre and Humor Institute.” The course entailed 12 hours of instruction from McCurdy, with each student writing and performing a five-minute comedy routine during the last class, which was held at the club and open to the public. Four students participated in the class, along with  Rancourt, Director of Environmental Studies Heidi Harley and New College President Richard Corcoran. . 

Thus students were present as audience members when Rancourt began his 7.25-minute segment with an anecdote about himself as a seven-year old exposing himself multiple times in front of a girl at the bus stop because she was a show-off. He said he wanted her to know, “This is called a penis. I got one, you don’t have one.” 

He continued, “Then next morning I walk on down to the school bus feeling really good about myself. I see that little bitch and she’s got a big old grin on her face. Big old grin on her face. I look at her and I go, “Alright, Susie, what you got?”

“She looks at me, smiles, lifts up her skirt and says, ‘David, my mama says I got one of these, I can have as many of those as I want’,” referring to Rancourt’s genitalia. 

Rancourt’s routine also included a joke about fictitious Indigenous Amazonians raping male Peace Corp volunteers and a joke about naming oneself  after what one likes, which Rancourt identified as “Beer Sex.” 

Rancourt also told a story about a large bull with “balls like basketballs, junk dragging on the ground.” Later, he told a story from his army days of a drill sergeant threatening Rancourt to jump out of a plane or “I’m going to ram this [baton] up your ass.”

According to the Sarasota Herald-TribuneCorcoran took the stage following Rancourt’s segment and quipped that Rancourt was now the “former dean of students.” 

Corcoran remarked, “There’s a lot of gay jokes there, I think he’s trying to tell me something.”

As a member of Florida State University’s infamous fraternity Phi Kappa Alpha “Pike” in the 1980s, Rancourt is familiar with controversy involving sexual harassment and sexual assault. In 1988 three members of this fraternity were charged with raping a woman and the chapter was thus banned from the university until 2000. In 2014, the fraternity was involved in a second sexual battery case. Rancourt is listed as a donor in the Pikes’ 2022 newsletter

In a statement to the Sarasota Herald Tribune, New College Director of Communications & Athletics Public Information Officer Nathan March affirmed the college’s support for Rancourt and others who performed. 

“Cancel culture is over at New College,” March said. “Comedy is a work of art, one that is reliant on our society’s tenets of free speech and free expression. New College supports its students, faculty and staff’s right to participate in artistic endeavors like a comedy performance, or any other civil exercising of free speech and free expression.”

According to student accounts, it was unprofessional and inappropriate behavior in a venue that should still be deemed the workplace. Comedy might be art, but comedy that intentionally spreads hatred that makes fun of the very students who are supposed to learn and grow from the comedy class is not. First-year Madeline Roach described the process of the class and her experience in an email correspondence with the Catalyst

“The process was simple. Les was a great teacher and we mostly learned about what makes a good set, how to deliver jokes in an effective manner, etc. We would come in twice a week, discuss some tips and advice and present what jokes we had come up with, which we would then workshop and fine tune.” She said she was never enthusiastic about performing for a live audience, but ended up enjoying writing jokes. 

Roach shared how Rancourt, whom she did not even realize was the Dean, made her feel slightly uncomfortable at times. 

According to Roach, no jokes were off limits. However she found it peculiar that Rancourt’s jokes were all about LGBTQ+ sex. “I was expecting the gay sex jokes in his performance, but what I wasn’t expecting was him replacing one of them with a joke about children flashing each other.” She said. “Sitting in the room with the jokes was mostly just groaning every time, and not in a good way.”

Another student, whose name was withheld on request, shared  their original excitement for the class. They expressed feeling grateful to Corcoran “for once,” despite having a less than positive view of the President’s actions. 

The student explained that Corcoran did not have official faculty approval for the ISP. “I was talking to professors about it [the ISP] before it was officially approved, and what happened was he [Corcoran] pushed the whole thing onto faculty without getting their approval first.” 

The student did not know that Rancourt or Corcoran would be members of the class until they arrived for the initial meeting. They stated how nervous they were to say the wrong thing in fear of being “kicked out.” 

According to this student, during the dress rehearsal, McCurdy asked to record and post the comedy clips on Youtube, which Rancourt and Corcoran were not in favor of. “Rancourt was like ‘I don’t want this posted’ and Corcoran agreed with him,” the student told the Catalyst 

“Before the performance I was looking around like, Did you guys just hear that? Did he actually just say that?” the student explained. 

According to the US Department of Education, Title IX  “encompasses sexual assault and other forms of sexual violence…. treatment of LGBTQIA+ students; discipline; single-sex education; and employment. Also, no recipient or other person may intimidate, threaten, coerce, or discriminate against any individual.” 

New College has recently undergone a series of Title IX changes. According to the New College website page “Title IX and Civil Rights Compliance,” the statute now narrows “the definition of what constitutes sexual harassment under Title IX and requiring a live hearing as part of the formal report process.” Would student audience members who described the hostile and uncomfortable environment that Rancourt created during his comedy routine have been previously protected under Title IX? 

The Catalyst reached out to Vice President of Legal Affairs and Interim Title IX Coordinator David Brickhouse for comment. March replied to the Catalyst in his place, stating that Brickhouse “will not be providing a comment.” Instead, March responded with the same statement about cancel culture and free speech offered to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune

Screenshot of Nathan March email to Catalyst staff member. Photo by Alexandra Levy 

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