October 24, 2009
Kresge Auditorium, Cambridge, MA
As any good Office fan would know, B.J. Novak came to MIT last Saturday night for a stand-up comedy show. Novak, whose career started in stand-up, plays Ryan Howard in the hit NBC sitcom, writes for the show, and has appeared in such films as Knocked Up and Inglourious Basterds.
After a brief and not-too-memorable warm-up act, Novak took the stage to ecstatic applause. The show was sold-out, and the audience was ready for some entertainment. First on Novak’s agenda: He thanked his two warm-up acts for prepping the crowd, including President Obama. His opening cracks at Obama got everyone chuckling heartily, and set the tone for an engaging show.
BJ Novak has the type of stage presence that builds an amicable relationship with his audience. His jokes ranged from mildly amusing to absolutely hilarious, but even in his most low-key moments there was no sense of betrayal to that relationship. Yes, he’s a star, and his on-screen fame is a large reason that people come out to see him. But he’s also a genuinely funny guy with a genuinely good routine, and — although he could’ve easily gotten away with it — he didn’t for one second sell himself short.
Highlights of the show include a hilarious panda set and recitation of a faux children’s book about Wikipedia Brown. Coming down on the fact that pandas are endangered due to their lack of procreation, he emphatically exclaimed, “Do you know what this means? Pandas do not think other pandas are cute!” followed by a declaration that if he were a panda, he “would be fucking the shit out of pandas, just so (he) could cuddle afterwards.” Everyone in the room, including myself, was nearly crying from laughter for several minutes.
His Wikipedia Brown set poked fun at Wikipedia’s overwhelming amount of information and inescapable force of distraction: a force we’ve all felt at one point or another. A later segment went through a list of his jokes to determine which belonged in the trash and which were worth keeping proved satisfyingly amusing.
I especially appreciated his intelligence as a comedian. He quipped throughout the show about the nerdiness of MIT students, and gave hilarious on-the-spot answers to questions fielded by the audience at the end of the show. I’m glad he opted for an ending 5 minutes of Q and A: It gave him yet another chance to connect with the audience and let us hear some interesting facts about his career. For instance, we learned that his favorite Office moment is Michael’s determination to say “that’s what she said” even after being legally banned from uttering the phrase.
From start to finish, Novak gave an enjoyable show. My only complaint is that I wish it could have gone on longer.