15 comedians with Ivy League pedigrees

By | August 29, 2013 at 6:39 pm | 15 comments | feature slider, Features, Lists | Tags:

It’s back to school time, you guys. And since for many students, this is a time of stress and panic, we’d like to help you through this time with a little inspiration. Below, we’ve listed 15 of our favorite funny people who were smart enough to gain entry into one (or more) of our country’s Ivy League institutions. Some graduated, some didn’t and in the case of our first subject, graduated in three years instead of the traditional four. Well, aren’t you smart and funny and successful, Ms. Whitney Cummings!

Whitney Cummings – University of Pennsylvania (’04 Communications)

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Whitney Cummings has always been an overachiever, even before having two sitcoms picked up by networks in the same year. This hilarious stand-up comedienne graduated from the Ivy League University of Pennsylvania in just three years!

Conan O’Brien – Harvard (’85 US History, Literature)

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Conan was a writer for the university’s humor magazine, The Harvard Lampoon. During his sophomore and junior years, he served as the magazine’s president. At the same time, his future boss at NBC, Jeff Zucker, served as the school’s rival newspaper, The Harvard Crimson.

Demetri Martin – Yale, (’95 History)

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“Not that it’s all about getting laid. But I rode a unicycle around campus in college. A total asshole.”

Lisa Lampanelli – Harvard (Master’s in Journalism)

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The Queen of Mean is also a Queen of the Library, having an impressive educational pedigree. After graduating from Syracuse University, she continued her journalism career at a Harvard graduate program. “Don’t even get me started on how much smarter I am than you,” she said during an interview with the Courier Press. She even began a short-lived bout of graduate schooling at Columbia University to become a teacher…until she realized that she hated kids!

Greg Giraldo – Columbia University (’87 English),  Harvard Law (’90)

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The immensely funny late Greg Giraldo was not only a brilliant stand-up but also a brilliant student. Growing up in Jackson Heights, Queens, he was accepted to the prestigious Regis High School before attending Columbia University. After scoring in the 99th percentile on the LSATs, he attended Harvard Law School. After about a year as a lawyer, he quit to pursue stand-up comedy. “Before I quit, I was dying. I mean, I couldn’t do it. It wasn’t like I was a functioning professional and I just made the choice to throw it all away to pursue this crazy dream.”

John Hodgman – Yale (’93, Literature)

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Before becoming a Senior Anything Correspondent on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, John Hodgman was studying Shakespeare for hours in the Yale library on cold New England nights. But after a decade out of school, he landed a regular gig on the popular Comedy Central fake news show.

Ellie Kemper – Princeton (’02 English)

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“I played field hockey [in college]. But I use the term “played” loosely. I sat on the bench for roughly 97 percent of my field hockey career at Princeton” She certainly didn’t sit on the bench much after college, landing a role on the hit NBC show, The Office, a few years after graduating.

Bill Maher – Cornell (’78 English, History)

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Maher hates his alma mater. “Cold. Gangs of men…There was not nearly enough women,” he recalls on WTF with Marc Maron. “It was very competitive. Beautiful, physically, but cold and isolated. So socially, it was awful.”

Robert Klein – Yale (’67 MFA)

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We can see where Klein’s musical theater portion of his stand-up came from. He had high end Ivy League theatre training at the prestigious Yale Drama School of Drama.

Lewis Black – Yale (’77 MFA)

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Our favorite angry Daily Show correspondant and incredible stand-up comedian, Lewis Black, was an Ivy man at the Yale School of Drama where he earned a Master’s degree in Fine Arts. However, Black holds a lot of contempt for his higher education. “I went to Yale much the same way that the rest of my generation went to Vietnam,” he writes in his book, Nothing’s Sacred. “Every time I think about that place, I inevitably start to limp.”

Jordan Carlos – Brown (’01 Business)

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It makes sense that Stephen Colbert’s “black friend” would be well-educated. “I studied business at Brown. So I know what to do with money…if I ever make any,” he says. Carlos, most recently seen on MTV’s Guy Code and Girl Code, was part of an on-campus improv troupe called Improvidence before moving to New York City to pursue stand-up.

Paul Provenza – University of Pennsylvania (’79, Theatre)

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Provenza attended the University of Pennsylvania and wanted to study theatre, which the school did not have a program for. He took a year’s leave of absence to study at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London, where he became one of few Americans to perform the role of Romeo on the London stage. When he returned to UPenn, they awarded him the University’s first ever Theatre Arts degree.

Rachel Dratch – Dartmouth (’88 Drama, Psychology)

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Before gracing the Saturday Night Live stage at 30 Rock, Rachel Dratch was taking the stage at Dartmouth as a member of a school improv troupe, “Said and Done.”

Mindy Kaling – Dartmouth (’01 Playwriting)

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The former comedy star, writer and producer of The Office and now The Mindy Project started off in the Ivy Leagues where she majored in playwriting. She jokes in her book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, that she went to Dartmouth “to pursue [her] love of white people”.

Honorable Mention:

Robert Smigel – Cornell (dropped out, Pre-Dental)

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Simpsons writer and creator and voice of Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, Robert Smigel began college at Cornell University studying to become a dentist. When he realized he struggled with science courses, he transferred to a different school to study communications. “I sucked at it. I failed so badly at what I was doing that my parents felt sorry for me and let me transfer.”

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About the Author

Billy Procida

Billy is a stand-up comedian in New York City. Every week he sits down with a chick he's hooked up with to talk about sex, dating, and sexuality on The Manwhore Podcast: A Sex-Positive Quest for Love. Follow Billy on Twitter: @TheBillyProcida

  • Bellerophons_Revenge

    All of the degrees are complete BS (not Bachelor of Science) except for one in business. No degrees in engineering or the sciences. A MFA qualifies someone to ask if you want fries with that.

    If you want a celebrity with a real degree look at Dolph Lundgren. He has a masters in chemical engineering. Or try Danica McKellar whose degree is in math and has written books on the subject for teens.

    A bachelor’s degree in medieval folk dancing is not a serious degree.

  • dave

    Add Dan Naturman (Penn); Harrison Greenbaum, Andy Borowitz, BJ Novak and Alignon Mitra (all Harvard).

    Some of the comments about Ivy Leaguers are ignorant, jealous or both. At many Ivies, more than half the kids get financial aid and if you want to see a lot of snobs, check out such public schools as U Kentucky or Mississippi U, where every rich white Protestant kid in the state attends and joins the same frats and sororities their parents and grandparents did–and the “varsity athlete only” dorms are like Ritz Carltons.

    And if you think rich kids can’t be funny, you must not know much about Robin Williams.

  • Beck

    i went through the public school system and graduated from a state university, so I hope that makes me the polar opposite of a snob.

  • 8hrdrive

    whitney cummings is the female version of Dane Cook…..not funny, but forced upon the masses.

  • Hackney

    Feh. A bunch of liberal arts bull$4i+ters who are also unfunny, with the exception of Greg Giraldo. When you find a comedian that is genuinely funny and has a degree in biomedical engineering, post that article.

  • The Devil

    Hey laughspin… now do a list of high school drop out comedians.

  • Paul T

    Jorge’s comment seems unfair or silly or simplistic, but it’s kind of spot-on. With the exception of a couple of the roast regulars (Giraldo and Lampanelli), the backgrounds of these performers shines through in their performances. I could have guessed that any one of them had gone to an Ivy. And that’s not a compliment. They have the same sense of humor as a kid I know – not a funny kid, just a kid – who scored perfect on his SATs, graduated with honors from MIT, and has since pursued, with some success, a career in improv and comedy writing. It’s not real comedy because they aren’t real comedians. They’re people who think they’re witticists – who pontificate, or think they’re the smartest guy in the room, or are so smart they can show contempt for the room by acting ironical towards it and everything that occurs in it – a la James Franco. Good on Smigel for dropping out, he’s a legit guy as well. The others are blowhards or gimmicky people to a greater or lesser degree.

    • Xtalline

      I agree with you about a couple of them, but you’re exaggerating a bit. I will admit that I respect and somewhat envy Ivy Leaguers a quite a bit, but not for their intelligence or creativity, and only for their work ethic. I was among the smartest at my school when I was younger, but I was a little shit who didn’t respect the gift I had and I didn’t try, showed up to SATs high as shit and still got a really good score, and only worked to like 50% of my ability because I had no work ethic when it came to class. I went to a top school for 2 years but ended up fucking up and transferring to an easier, in-state school due to drug use and out-of-class infractions. Most of success is work ethic, but you’re right about one thing; intelligence shouldn’t have to be forced upon an audience by somebody, but should just show naturally like with Greg Giraldo. It sucks to see a lot of these people become successful for making hack-comedy and unfunny bullshit, simply because they have a degree and friends in the industry, like Mindy Kaling, Bill Maher and Whitney Cummings (it also helps to blow a top network producer),

  • tsol

    Aisha Tyler went to Dartmouth as she will mention at least once per podcast.

  • Jorge Garrido

    15 comedians I am not longer a fan of. Rich assholes.

    • http://www.laughspin.com/ Dylan Gadino

      just because you went to an Ivy League school, doesn’t mean you were rich. those schools have tons of money to give out in financial aid. my brother went to Cornell for like $5k a year. of course he’ll be paying off his loans until he’s 80.

      • Paul T

        It almost certainly does. Even those who go to Ivys but aren’t rich tend to be snobs, or have snob values (ie, want to be accepted among snobs). I went to a decent but not great Catholic school (in Indiana) with a couple middle-class kids who went to Harvard, and another who went to Boston. Another of our friends went to MIT. They were training and being trained all their lives, even when we were young kids, to be snobs, and they had indeed become snobs when the smoke cleared.

        It was also a hell of a good school we went to.

    • Jorge Jorge

      They didn’t mention David Alan Grier – He went to Yale – How Whitney Cummings graduated the same year as me is a mystery. She looks 45.

      Jorge – where would you prefer everyone went to school?

    • CheLoco

      Jorge, tu es un *hueco de hopo* – jajajajaja!

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