The Comedian: A profile on Jeff Stern, CC ’12
For the latest installment of a series about the various wacky students that make up the Varsity Show cast and crew, Christin Zurbach sat down with Jeff Stern. Once you’ve finished reading, check out the V-Show’s latest promo video.
Christin Zurbach: How did you get involved in comedy, and how did you get involved in writing comedy for theater?
Jeff Stern: SNL is where it all started. I would stay home on Saturday nights and watch SNL live all the way through, tape it, and then watch it again with my parents so that I could give them the best parts. When I was in high school, my friend coerced me to audition for Second City in L.A. I auditioned for a teen troupe, lied about my experience, and joined the Harold team full of child actors, and I learned how improv works and how comedy works. From there, when I went to college, I translated that to writing sketch comedy at Berkeley, and then I transferred here and I joined initially Chowdah my first year.
CZ: How do you feel that your comedy experience at Berkley is different from your comedy and theater experience at Columbia?
JS: It’s really interesting because I never thought I would be involved in musical theater. When I got here, I knew what the Varsity Show was, but I didn’t realize how much it affects the comedy world and how the same people who can do improv can also sing and act. There’s a gray area in terms of the crossover. I immediately realized that I was going to have to learn a lot more about theater.
CZ: What’s your favorite musical?
JS: Book of Mormon. It definitely informed the way the show was written.
CZ: What persuaded you to work on the Varsity Show, a musical, since it was different from what you’d been doing?
JS: When I saw the Varsity Show for the first time, I realized how incredible the experience could be and how it could take a community that is sometimes very cynical and let them laugh at themselves. For me, it was the best illustration of what the school excels at, which is taking incredibly driven, passionate people and giving them a forum to take their interests and run with them.
CZ: Within that team effort, obviously your relationship with John is very important. What’s the difference between writing with a co-writer, and specifically with John?
JS: For me, doing this as a senior, my interest was contingent on John’s. We couldn’t apply together and we didn’t apply together, but John isn’t even my co-writer – at this point, he’s my brother. A lot of the jokes my good friends will think I wrote, he has written, and it’s a testament to the fact that he can anticipate what I think is funny, and vice versa.
CZ: To get a bit sentimental, what do you think you’ll miss most about Columbia?
JS: The nature of being a transfer student here really does color your experience so differently because I am very much aware of what I came to this school for … But at the heart of it, I’m going to miss the people the most, and the fact that this place is so charged with passion and with people who are legitimately so curious about the world, and the fact that it’s such a weird social experiment – taking all of these young people when they’re in this really interesting phase of discovery in their own and throwing them in the same few blocks and having them live with each other and learn with each other … We do this stuff on our own time because we want to, not because anyone is paying us to. I haven’t gotten a paycheck yet.
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