Published: March 17, 2015

University of Colorado Professor Patty Limerick will review nearly four decades of service as University Fool and reflect on the value of humor on April Fools’ Day.

On Wednesday, April 1, at 6:30 p.m. in the Wittemyer Courtroom of the Wolf Law Building on the Boulder campus, the history professor and Official University of Colorado Fool, and also Official Fool Emerita of Yale University and Harvard University, will speak on “Fool’s Enterprise: A Personal History.” The event is free and open to the public.

The role of the Fool has deep origins in human society.  In the past, kings and queens recognized the value—really, the necessity—of appointing Fools who would speak openly and even festively of uncomfortable matters that would otherwise proliferate and fester. By breaking the spell of caution, timidity and fear that held others under its power, Fools dissipated and dispelled a society’s accumulation of bad luck. Composed of the world’s strangest blend of wisdom and nonsense this tradition fell into disuse because of a mistaken notion that Fools were no longer needed in democracies.

In the mid-1970s, a graduate student named Patty Nelson (who would soon acquire the providentially silly surname “Limerick”) undertook to restore and reactivate this important social role. When she declared her candidacy for the position of Yale University Fool, this historic occasion earned recognition in The New York Times and The International Herald-Tribune. In the early 1980s, with her national and international reputation for folly secured, Patty Limerick easily rose to the top of the Fool Pool at Harvard, and then, soon after her relocation to Boulder, at the University of Colorado.

In an illustrated talk on April Fools’ Day 2015, Limerick will review nearly four decades of adventure and misadventure as a self-confessed, officially appointed, highly credentialed Fool. The reminiscing will lead to reflections on the value of humor in reducing social tension and friction and in imagining creative solutions to the problems of and pressures on higher education.

Cupcakes will be served, and recognition will be given to the writers of the best limericks celebrating the innumerable ways that Fools serve and improve society. The event will announce and launch the new “Center of the American West’s Humor Initiative” in an appropriately eccentric and laughable manner.

The Center of the American West’s Humor Initiative was created to celebrate those individuals whose temperaments support a central conviction of the Center of the American West: A dose of good humor is essential to constructive public discussion, and not coincidentally, to public health. Its centerpiece is the Distinguished Visiting Fool for a Day Award that will be presented once a year on the CU-Boulder campus.

CU-Boulder’s Center of the American West works on a variety of regional issues, including water management, relationships between federal agencies and communities, land planning, Native identity, recent art and literature, and the balance of power between tradition and innovation in Western life. The center takes as its mission the creation of forums for the respectful exchange of ideas in pursuit of solutions to the region’s difficulties. The center believes that an understanding of the historical origins of the West’s problems, an emphasis on the common interests of all parties, and a dose of good humor are essential to constructive public discussion. 

Limerick is the faculty director and chair of the board of the Center of the American West.

For more information, visit the Center of the American West’s website at or call 303-492-4879.

Patty Limerick, 303-492-4879 
Jessica Brawner, 303-492-4879

Patty Limerick and Harvard President Derek Bok circa 1983.