By Amy Argetsinger and Roxanne Roberts

Last Laugh for Howard U. Student Humor Magazine

Comic Chris Rock has a UPN hit with "Everybody Hates Chris." He had a movie hit with "Madagascar," and his hilariously subversive hosting of the Oscars this year was the best thing to happen to the snoozefest broadcast in ages. (Too edgy for some? That's why we liked it!)

All this success got us wondering whatever happened to his most ambitious project. Alas: R.I.P., The Illtop.

That's the student humor magazine he launched in 1999 at Howard University to create a hatchery for young black comedy writers. (The name spoofed the Howard newspaper The Hilltop -- "ill" being how kids say "groovy" these days.)

But after its high-buzz debut in 2000, editions were few and far between. Though Howard officials insisted as recently as last year that The Illtop was alive and well, we could never find an issue post-2002. Now both Howard and Rock reps acknowledge: Things just didn't work out.

Rock's frequent business partner, Bill Stephney, said it was hard to get Howard students -- many struggling with part-time jobs to pay tuition -- to devote time to the magazine.

But he also agreed with what students told us: Sophomoric humor is tricky when grown-ups get involved. Rock funded the magazine to the tune of about $100,000 a year, prompting the university to give it an official home in the School of Communications. School officials "spent a lot of time bemoaning the overtly sexual content -- but that's what 18-year-olds do!" one campus source complained to us. Other students said an excess of caution delayed issues past their humor's timeliness; the issue mocking the 2000 presidential race didn't hit the streets until spring 2001.

"They had their sense of humor," school Dean Jannette Dates says dryly. "Sometimes I got it, and sometimes I didn't."

Finally, says Stephney, the cost of The Illtop "became prohibitive" for Rock. The comedian kept his eye on the larger goal, though: This summer, he got Comedy Central to offer an internship for college students to learn from pros like Rock, Al Franken and Conan O'Brien. One student was from Howard, and the dean said she approved of the lesson he got: "Comedy's not just standing up and doing one-liners and going for the obscenities -- to touch the funny bone you've got to do a lot more digging."

The 31st Message of Hope and Courage: Go Skins!

We stopped by the home of former White House protocol chief Lucky Roosevelt on Tuesday for a party honoring Alexandra Villard de Borchgrave, author of "Healing Light: Thirty Messages of Love, Hope and Courage." The hostess and author wore exotic robes in keeping with the book's illustrations -- ancient Indian Mogul paintings -- and 30 Rumi-esque inspirational poems that speak for themselves.

After that heartbreaking Redskins loss to the Broncos Sunday, we could all use a little hope and courage, couldn't we? So we thought this was the perfect place for more entries in the Reliable Source Predict the Season Ambush:

Investment banker Marc Leland: "I think they're going to be 8-8."

Roosevelt concentrated. "They did beat the Cowboys. That's very good. We can win 10. Let's say 10-6."

The author deferred to her husband, UPI editor at large Arnaud de Borchgrave. "They'll go all the way to the Super Bowl," he said. Really? He shrugged nonchalantly. "Political forecasting, economic predictions and sports prognostication have made astrology look respectable."

HEY, ISN'T THAT . . . ?

* Ward 1 Council member Jim Graham, at the dry cleaner at 14th and U Saturday, complaining about a lost navy suit. We overheard the 5-foot-51/4 Graham tell the clerk: "It'll turn up somewhere if you look hard enough. If somebody else took it, surely it won't fit them. There aren't many people my size."

SHOUT OUT

"We don't have hurricanes there."

-- Canadian country-rocker Kathleen Edwards at the 9:30 club Monday, explaining why Americans should consider moving north of the border. Only one fan booed, and she gave him a beer.