Felix Dennis, the billionaire publisher of Maxim who was the first person to say the word “cunt” on live British television, cut right to the chase last night at the Columbia Journalism School.
“Let’s get the murder thing out of the way,” he said in his refined British accent, alluding to his outrageous, and subsequently retracted claim in The Times of London on April 2 that he had killed a man 25 years ago.
“What they didn’t notice was the date that this front page London Times article came out. It was the same day The Guardian made a front page that had pictures of penguins flying from Antarctica to South America. It was also the same day another newspaper in Britain had a wonderful front page story that President Sarkozy of France was undergoing daily stretching on a rack so that he could become as tall as his new wife.” (Those stories actually ran the previous day, and it was The Daily Mirror and The Daily Telegraph that carried the penguins story, but point taken.)
“I have a lot of books to sell, do you understand?” he said. Mr. Dennis recently published Island of Dreams, his fourth collection of poetry. “Anybody who thinks that story is real needs a sense of humor check.”
And in fact that’s just what Mr. Dennis delivered to the J-school’s ongoing Thursday evening magazine lecture series, which are sometimes tedious affairs, with speakers who muse wistfully on their long hard journeys to the tops of prestigious publications, and then offer seemingly canned advice to the journalism students seeking reassurance that their pricey degrees will eventually pay off. Mr. Dennis slayed the audience—which included a bevy of suit-clad Dennis Publishing employees, among them William Falk, the Pulitzer-winning editor-in-chief of the company’s weekly news aggregate, The Week—with his witty and theatrical speech that drew frequent bursts of laughter.
In one exchange, a student cited a passage from Mr. Dennis’ 2006 bestseller, How To Get Rich, in which he writes about how money vastly improved his sex life.
“Is there any hope for those of us who aspire only to be poor journalists?” the student, a fellow Brit, asked.
“Yeah, because you’re young, and so you’re hung like a horse,” Mr. Dennis replied, to the crowd’s roaring amusement. “For those of us who are old, fat and bald with glasses, wealth is the only way.”
Perhaps the highlight of the evening was when Mr. Dennis took a swipe at Newsweek editor Jon Meacham, who at the J-school in February, lamented the fact that the young journos in the audience preferred The Economist to his own publication.
“I hear there is a certain person, whose name I will not repeat, that was here recently bleating on about how upset he was that not one of the 100 aught students in attendance read his magazine,” Mr. Dennis said. “Here’s my plea. Until you are earning a decent salary, can I please ask you NOT TO SUBSCRIBE TO THE WEEK!?”
And then he started offering the bribe:
“However, should you wish to receive a free year’s trial subscription, just give me your name and address after this lecture and I’ll take care of it … I look forward to seeing every one of your names in print real soon, at the top of the masthead.”