BJ Novak: A Harvard degree is ‘the worst thing to have on a comedy resume’

For decades, comedy writing has been an Ivy League boys’ club. Specifically, there’s a significant pipeline from the Harvard Lampoon to the writers’ rooms of Hollywood and New York. That alone has been widely and self-referentially satirized in many TV shows. Well, according to BJ Novak, it was the worst thing in the world for him to come from a wealthy family in Boston to Harvard, and then to the Harvard Lampoon and then to Hollywood. Novak is currently promoting his directorial debut, Vengeance, which is supposed to be like a dry-comedy murder mystery. To promote the movie, he spoke to the Boston Globe and they lead with the fact that he grew up in Boston and went to Harvard!

Just the mention of Harvard makes B.J. Novak wince.

“I don’t like talking about it,” he said. “I will, but I don’t like to.”

It’s not modesty or regret. Novak worked hard in high school — Newton South, class of ‘97 — specifically because he wanted to write for the Harvard Lampoon. The problem, said the 42-year-old writer/actor/director known for his role as Ryan on “The Office,” is that Ivy League cred can actually count against you in comedy.

“It’s the worst thing to have on a comedy resume, the worst,” he said. “Comedy is an underdog profession. You’re speaking up for the underdog. You’re saying what isn’t said by the people in charge. But [Harvard] makes people think you’re in a different category. Or that you think you are.”

Both Marc Maron and Dax Shepard, in separate, uncomfortable conversations with him on their extremely popular podcasts, told Novak his privileged background was off-putting and, for a while, they perceived him as some combination of entitled, aloof, and pompous. “I’m going to start with love and benevolence and say I think I don’t like you,” Shepard told Novak.

During a visit to Boston last week, Novak acknowledged the negative impression some people have of him. “I get it,” he said with a shrug. “I’ve been cast as this guy I don’t feel I am.”

[From Boston Globe]

I… don’t get it? “It’s the worst thing to have on a comedy resume, the worst.” A Harvard education and time spent on one of the most widely-known and highly-regarded comedy publications are demonstrably NOT the worst things to have on your resume, comedy or otherwise. I get that Novak wants to feel like an underdog. No one wants to admit that they’re a cliche, no one wants to admit that their path was well-trod for decades, that there’s nothing groundbreaking about their journey. But man, what f–king privilege.

Here are some photos of Novak with his BFF Mindy Kaling at the LA premiere of Vengeance on Monday night. I get that they’re BFFs and all that, but I wish Mindy would… IDK, move on?

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Photos courtesy of Avalon Red, Getty.

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46 Responses to “BJ Novak: A Harvard degree is ‘the worst thing to have on a comedy resume’”

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  1. Merricat says:

    Yeah, he’s being disingenuous. I remember when The Simpsons was basically the Harvard Boys Club. Surviving the comedy circuit is a hell of a lot easier when you can count on eating and staying in a good hotel. Poor BJ.

  2. Ariel says:

    Wow. I like him less now than i did 5 minutes ago. And i never really liked him.
    It must be so hard to be a privileged, white man with money. Poor baby.

    You know it has never occurred to him for a minute that maybe he is just NOT as funny and brilliant as people have told him he is all of his life.

    And i hate the fact that she is wasting her life with a non-boyfriend, taking up space where she could meet someone new and worthy of her.

  3. Jessica says:

    Agree. Having that conversation is pretentious. Poor guy. I really feel for him and his rich family and time at Harvard. The fact that he says he did things in high school knowing it would help at Harvard is sooo…wait my eyes just got stuck in my head from rolling so hard.

    Also, I think he and Mindy are more than friends. I think they are either together together or he is at minimum father of her kids. She has said multiple times that during the pandemic he and her father were the only ones around “their”kids .

    • girl_ninja says:

      I don’t think they are more than friends. I think at one point it was there was a romance but that ended and I also think he keeps her hooked? I could be wrong but I get that sense. I appreciate how talented and brilliant Mindy is. She should get a better best friend.

      • iseepinkelefants says:

        I got that sense too. I don’t like him so maybe that feeds into it but I get the impression she hangs on for dear life and he lets her because it feeds his ego. It’s sad really. Someone that creative with a great career Waity Katieing for a guy who is woe is me over his immense privilege. I’ve never been a Kahling fan girl and part of it is this.

    • AmelieOriginal says:

      They dated while they were on The Office (their characters also did too) but it didn’t last and they broke up. They’ve been in a weird aromantic limbo ever since it seems and have both talked about how close and weird their friendship/relationship is though they are not romantically together. I still think he’s the father to her two kids, I don’t know who else would be. She hasn’t dated anyone publicly that I know of apart from BJ.

  4. detritis says:

    Is this the comedy version of ‘my beauty has held me back’ ?

    I’ve never heard anything with BJ where he seems likeable. This interview included. Plus his situationship with Mindy K feels very much to his benefit and not to hers.

    I do enjoy that Shepard straight up said he didn’t think he liked him. And Novak took it very well.

    • AMA1977 says:

      It’s confusing me that Dax Shepard, whom I do not like, doesn’t like BJ Novak, whom I also do not like. It’s like some alternate version of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” except they’re both insufferable and punchable and neither one is my friend. 😂

      Cosign that Mindy needs to close that door forever, because she’s hilarious and smart and hard-working and beautiful and just seems full of light, and she deserves someone who wants to give her 100%, not whatever mindf*ck this dweeb has been perpetrating on her for more than a decade.

      • detritis says:

        It’s the best I’ve thought of Dax in ages lol

        Agreed about the enemy of my enemy, but with annoying rich men instead of enemies.

      • Sugarlite says:

        This is the best comment I’ve ever read about Mindy/BJ relationship. She is way more famous and successful than him and he is just a leech on her side. Please Mindy you deserve so much better! I live for the day when she moves on.

      • Lux says:

        Really enjoyed and co-sign your comment @AMA1977. Those boys are not funny and not cute; one overshares to an annoying extent and the other thinks the children’s book he’s written without pictures is SOOO clever.

        Mindy really needs to break free. I know because I’ve been BJ and no, the friendship will not turn into a full-blown romance with a happy ending. During and immediately post-college, I definitely enjoyed the benefits of male friendships a little too much and, for selfish reasons, kept them around in a capacity that prevented them from really meeting others, but not so much that I could be accused of truly leading them on. I’ve since learned from my mistakes and, before meeting my husband, was able to develop healthy boundaries/friendships with the opposite sex. I think the healthy boundaries was what made it clear to me that my husband was different in the “when you know, you know” sense.

  5. Ersatz says:

    This might be his best joke.

  6. Hellohello says:

    Unfortunately, I know a number of people from the Newton, MA high school class of ’97 (IDK if that’s the same as Newton South) and they all think that they’re normal middle class Americans just trying to make it in “The Arts” when in fact they’re privileged, coddled, and self-unaware navel gazers making middling work, at best. Sounds like ‘ol Ryan Howard is to the manner born.

  7. Lexilla says:

    Yeah I don’t think his Harvard background is why people don’t like him.

  8. Mindy_Dopple says:

    Oh is it? Is it the worst!? (Very sarcastic tone) He says he’s typecast but idk, it seems like a very Ryan thing to do to complain about how hard it’s been for a male with tons of privilege and connections to get by. And to talk about comedy like people don’t “get it”. I wonder if Mindy’s success annoys him and if he’s turned down her offers to help him. I hope she keeps him around to constantly humble him and to rub all her success in his face. I would!!

  9. TIFFANY says:

    Conan O’Brien had the same pipeline (although he was middle class and not wealthy like Novak) and manages to have a better conversation about this. And Dax and Marc are friends with him and adore him and never told him not to talk about his time at Lampoon. And seems to have a better career than BJ as well. Funny that.

    • Vince says:

      I love Conan, however he wasn’t born middle class. His mother was an attorney and his dad is a physician and professor of medicine at Harvard.

  10. lucy2 says:

    Oof. I get that he’s saying people make assumptions about him, but he’s coming from a place of extreme privilege and connections, and calling it the “worst thing on a resume” is really tone deaf. That resume (and being a white male) would give him a foot in the door that so many other people wouldn’t get, and he should acknowledge that.

  11. girl_ninja says:

    Poor B. J. Blessed with all the money and all the money education can buy. Why not be grateful for what you born into and all that comes with that? Acknowledge your white make privilege and move on. If it weren’t for Mindy would anyone be interested in him? I doubt it.

    • Sugarlite says:

      No one. His only claim to fame is the office. He is leeching off Mindy to keep himself relevant. He will never be famous.

  12. Bettyrose says:

    Former Senator Al Franken was largely responsible for the Harvard pipeline. He freely admitted in the 90s that he had only hired Harvard grads at SNL. He passed that tradition down to his protege Conan OBrian and decades of Harvard grads dominating comedy was achieved. What is BJ Novak even taking about?

    • bubbled says:

      Tina Fey has also said that she stocked her writing rooms partially with Harvard Lampoon alums.

      • Bettyrose says:

        The disappointing thing about Tiny Fey is she didn’t come from that world herself. She didn’t go to Harvard. She worked her way up to SNL through Second City and became their first woman head writer. But did she hold the door open? Doesn’t sound like it.

    • Christine says:

      I’m 99% sure BJ was an intern at Conan’s show as well

      • TIFFANY says:

        Nope, that was John Krasinski. And he was proud of the fact that he was a snot of a intern and didn’t follow the rules given to him during his time there.

  13. bubbled says:

    Even Mindy seems to disagree with his claim. She wrote Late Night, where she clearly shows that Harvard Lampoon men have an easier time getting tv comedy writing jobs. And she also wrote the Sex Lives of College Girls, with a similar Lampoon-like publication in a fictional Ivy-like college (Dartmouth prob, but anyway).

    • Bettyrose says:

      Sex Lives of College Girls is so great. And the Lampoon plot line … she’s there at the prestigious school and the boys still won’t let her in the club. Yep.

  14. Christine says:

    I mean you could just… not tell people where you graduated from if you’re that embarrassed or feel you’re being held back because of it? I wouldn’t think “Where did you graduate from?” would be a topic of conversation held at a table full of comedians but what do I know

    • Juniper says:

      It’s so amusing that the stereotype fits 99% of the time, to wit:

      “How do you know someone went to Harvard?”
      “Don’t worry, they’ll tell you.”

    • Lux says:

      I went to college in Boston and I have to say, the pretension is even worse when they’re like, “in Cambridge. Yes…Harvard.” It’s like, dude, we are in THE freaking college town and Harvard Sq is a T stop away for most of us. The MIT folks have no issue telling it like it is.

      Full disclosure: did attend a Harvard Lampoon party where you had to be on “the list.” A nice-ish guy invited me and it was fun-ish (very typical environment, blowup doll on the floor, ppl standing on tables, DJ, and maybe an antler on the wall). We chatted w the Harvard men (some of them witty, yes) until morning in their dorm. That’s when their roommate “Britain” (yes, that was her name) came out and acted like a condescending snoot when she was introduced and realized we were not one of them. I hate that it was a woman who found us disdainful, but seriously, she gave off the vibe of, “guys, what are you even doing w these chicks.” Screw you and your snooty once-overs, BRITAIN!

  15. Eurydice says:

    Lol, the Boston Globe has a problematic relationship with Harvard. And it’s a well-known “joke” that a Harvard grad will tell you he went to Harvard in the first minute he meets you.

    • salmonpuff says:

      Of my many acquaintances, the only ones whose alma maters I know are those who went to Harvard. And they all do this faux humble thing about it like it’s soooo embarrassing to have to admit they went to Harvard. No one asked, friend-o!

      • AmelieOriginal says:

        I don’t know anyone personally who went to Harvard but I do know some people who went to other Ivies and for some reason Harvard seems to be considered the most prestigious of the 8 schools? The people I know who went to other Ivies have always been pretty humble and not show offy about it. But when you ask someone directly where they went to school and they say “Harvard,” there doesn’t seem a way to make that humble or not awkward lol.

      • Juniper says:

        It’s so true. Anyone who has gone to Harvard will tell you within 5 minutes of meeting them. Texas A&M too for some weird reason.

  16. JMoney says:

    Its “the worst” once you’ve made it but in the meantime those Ivy League connections are the fastest way to get into the entertainment industry regardless of which coast. Oh and I’m willing to bet all his “closest friends/associate” are also Ivy educated or went to school in New England and the Northeast. Comedy thrives on appealing to the every day person which Ivy League alumns are not and they get infuriated when they get called out on it.

    Mindy Kaling has grown but by no means was she always the person she is now. For the longest time she was ashamed to have been part of the Diversity program she did which allowed her to work on The Office (she stated this in one of her books). She also would cast and only date white men. She’s been on a journey which has resulted in her becoming more self-aware of these issues which is a good thing. I don’t think her and BJ Novak will ever part (he’s the godfather to her kids) but I think Mindy now is self aware to know that she and BJ would never be good together as a couple.

  17. Waadda says:

    He’s also a total nepo baby. His dad is a seriously connected author
    On the Office commentary, other actors frequently talk about all the stories he told about meeting and getting advice from famous people his dad worked with.

  18. Snarkle says:

    I get exhausted just looking at him

  19. Izzy says:

    He’s always struck me as such a pretentious jerk. This story does nothing to dispel that rumor.

  20. Juniper says:

    This is ridiculous. I know of a couple of people who had wanted to break into comedy writing and it’s totally a Harvard Boys Club. It’s hard enough to break in when you’re one of them, but nearly impossible if you’re not. BJ can take 1,000 seats.

  21. Margo says:

    I think Mindy has moved on – she has two beautiful children! She just doesn’t have the need to have the world know who her significant other is or whether she has one at all! BJ is her friend. It’s lovely they have maintained that friendship all these years.

  22. Jess says:

    I can’t stand him. And he continues to justify my dislike for him.

  23. jferber says:

    Humble brag. And a lie.

  24. Bisynaptic says: