A&O Winter Speaker B.J. Novak’s props, jokes draw laughs


Meghan White/Daily Senior Staffer

Communication sophomore Charlie Gingold was the first of three student openers for B.J. Novak.

Lauren Caruba, Assistant Campus Editor

In a fitting fashion for a cast member and writer for “The Office,” B.J. Novak began his stand-up performance at Northwestern on Saturday night by invoking the show’s most beloved joke.

“They really packed you in here,” Novak said to a sold-out crowd of nearly 1,000 in Pick-Staiger Concert Hall as he took the microphone. “That’s what she said.”

A&O Productions’ Winter Speaker, who last appeared at NU in 2008, is best known for his role as temp Ryan Howard on the show, for which he is also a writer and co-executive producer. He also has appeared in various films, including “Inglorious Basterds” and “Knocked Up.”

During his act, Novak made use of several props, including “Shy Puppet,” a green and white hand puppet he produced from his briefcase mid-act. After he attempted to coax the puppet into delivering the punch line of a joke, Novak allowed students to briefly violate the performance’s no-photography rule and take pictures of him with the puppet.

“I’m on a mission to make this the only photo of me available,” he said. “I want people to think this is the only thing I do.”

However, it was a large white garbage can that assisted Novak in his most extended bit of the night. Under the pretext of testing new material on the audience, Novak read jokes from slips of paper and gauged student reaction, returning successful ones to the briefcase and discarding poor ones in the trash.

“Too late, you laughed,” Novak said after a bad joke still elicited laughs. “Can’t take it back.”

Once Novak had been ushered out of the auditorium after the show, a couple students jumped onstage to retrieve some of the discarded jokes from the bin.

A&O representatives said Novak’s props and interactive delivery kept audience members engaged throughout the show.

“It feels much more refreshed and immediate, rather than a rehearsed routine,” said Medill junior Shelly Tan, A&O’s co-director of marketing and media.

Because Novak’s performance was primarily straight stand-up — unlike last year, when Kenan Thompson shared anecdotal stories about his career — Novak appealed to a wide range of students.

“As someone who doesn’t watch ‘The Office,’ I was really amused,” said Medill sophomore Emily Wickwire. “It was really good.”

The show further boosted campus fundraising for Josie Nordman, the Communication sophomore with cystic fibrosis who needs to raise up to $75,000 of the total $750,000 cost for a double-lung transplant. While purchasing their tickets, students could contribute $2 of the cost toward Nordman, bringing in $1,500 worth of donations for the night.

“We’re beyond amazed that we raised over 1,000, let alone 1,500 dollars, from that show,” said A&O chairman Logan Koepke, a Weinberg senior. “We’re really pleased with that and looking forward to some more fundraising efforts for our upcoming spring events.”

Student stand-up acts by Communication sophomore Charlie Gingold, Communication sophomore Aimee Hechler and Communication senior Dan Selinger preceded Novak’s hour-long performance.

The majority of the night’s jokes were well received by audience members, but not everyone was amused by some of the more crass remarks. Throughout the night, several jokes by both Novak and student performers pushed the boundaries. One of Gingold’s jokes concerning sexual assault briefly quieted the crowd, and at one point Novak quipped about slavery.

“A couple of the jokes weren’t real trans-friendly,” said McCormick sophomore and newly-elected Rainbow alliance co-president Redmond Lhota. “But that happens at most comedy shows.”

However, Hechler and Selinger soon had students laughing again. Hechler mentioned how she is occasionally mistaken for Beyonce, and Selinger said rather than hoping for “washboard abs” on men, women should instead want soft ones that can “conform” to their bodies.

“’You know what, I need a man with Tempur-Pedic abs,’” Selinger said, imitating a woman describing her perfect man. “’One where I can place a wine glass on one side and jump on the other.’”

Although most of Novak’s performance focused on stand-up rather than his work on “The Office,” a short question-and-answer session following his act yielded details of his experiences with the show, which is on its ninth and final season. He identified “The Deposition” as his favorite episode and disclosed that the finale will “break open another dimension of the show,” likely referencing how this season is finally revealing the reasoning behind the show’s documentary-style filming of the Scranton, Penn.-based branch of Dunder Mifflin Paper Company.

Many students were interested in seeing Novak specifically because of his stint on the NBC comedy. Communication senior Amanda Lapid said she enjoyed Novak’s “charismatic” personality on the show and in real life, especially in regards to his relationship with Mindy Kaling — his co-star on both “The Office” and Kaling’s new show, “The Mindy Project” — who he banters with on Twitter.

“I like the way he interacts with other people,” she said. “He seems pretty observant and astute.”

Novak mentioned he would like his own show one day, but noted its title would have to differ from Kaling’s.

“’The BJ Project’ doesn’t have the same ring,” he said.