By: Patrick Millar
From dating and roommate advice to general life tips, columnist and author Harlan Cohen’s first visit to the college was a quirky and hilarious talk highlighting some of the greatest social challenges facing students.
Around 200 students came out on Nov. 10 to hear Cohen speak about his experiences going to university in the U.S. and the lessons he learned from his time there and offered advice for problems students raised, and gave earnest advice about life.
“Life is 90 per cent amazing, 10 per cent a big pile of bullshit,” said Cohen. “The problem with that 10 per cent bullshit is that most people don’t know how to navigate through it.”
Cohen helped people with many sensitive topics, such as telling a girl who is too nervous to ask out a classmate how to ask people out without feeling awkward, how to deal with a roommate making way too much noise during sex, as well as various questions on how to be a good roommate with others by being honest with them.
After chatting with students about their personal problems and answering questions from audience members written on pieces of paper and randomly picked out of a bag, he closed the show with a funny musical number.
Cohen has been an advice columnist for 17 years, and is part of over 400 local dailies and college newspapers across North America with his self-titled “Help Me Harlan” columns. He has published five books, the most recent one called Getting Naked: Five Steps to Finding The Love of Your Life (While Fully Clothed and Totally Sober). Harlan says he felt obligated to pass on his knowledge to a generation of new post-secondary students.
“When it comes to college life, I had such a rough start to my college career, that I really wanted to share what I learned, and the best way to share what I learned is to put it in book form,” said Cohen. “Over the years, I’ve been answering dating and relationship questions, and the questions people wrote led to the answers that ultimately helped me find the love of my life, so I thought it would be really selfish to learn all this knowledge and information and not share it.”
Harlan’s improvisation and advice was helpful and humorous at times, but also honest. In fact, honesty was the theme from the show that Harlan felt was the most important thing people could learn from the show.
“The most important thing for people to take away: say what you think and do what you feel, and be able to do it sober and during daylight hours,” said Cohen.
Part of Cohen’s style of advice is to tell anecdotes to make people feel at ease and to give some background to his life. He told stories about his first love in college getting to the point in the relationship her father told her to “shoot the dead puppy,” as well as one about his first college roommate offering Cohen a “shrubbery” like substance. Cohen’s response? “No thanks, I’m full.”
Acting manager of Residence Life Danielle Puchnatyj said they reached out to Harlan to help with students since November can be a difficult time of year for students.
“I’ve used his book for years in tackling roommate issues and educating Residence Life staff. We program towards student transition needs and improving the college experience,” said Puchnatyj . “We knew that Harlan is well known for his work in helping deal with roommate issues, but also with college issues, so we approached him.”
After the show, Cohen gave out and autographed copies of his books for the students who attended, giving out more advice to people and encouraging them to send further questions to his website, www.helpmeharlan.com/.