They may be known for the quality (and cost) of their education, but over the past three decades graduates from America’s Ivy League school’s have formed the foundation of contemporary comedy, essentially shaping what people today consider funny. But after producing, creating, and writing some of their generation’s breakthrough comedies, Ivy Leaguers may have started moving more towards the realms of technology and politics, where a sense of humor isn’t necessarily the same kind of prerequisite.
The two shows that absolutely revolutionized TV comedy over the past two decades were sculpted entirely by an Ivy League braintrust. The Simpsons, the longest-running sitcom in American history, was creatively put together by a writing staff made up of many Ivy Leaguers, including Harvard grad writers/producers Mike Reiss and Al Jean. The show has poked fun numerous times at its Ivy lineage, referencing the Ivy League schools countless times.
Late Night with Conan O’Brien, the show that effectively shaped late-night television in the new millennium, was built around O’Brien (pictured), another Harvard grad. But the sudden premium on Ivy League talent in Washington and Silicone Valley may have left something of a vacuum in the comedy brainstorming sessions.
There is still a strong Ivy League presence in comedy, but America’s best and brightest have made greater waves recently in the cabinet of President Barack Obama. A Harvard graduate himself, Obama built his cabinet primarily around the Ivy League in a move New York Times columnist David Brooks referred to as a “valedictocracy.” Consider that Facebook, arguably today’s most prominent cultural force, was created on Harvard University’s campus and the comedy world could be seeing a lag in Ivy League recruiting.
“I’m afraid we (Ivy Leaguers) are in the minority now in the writing staff. We’re being outnumbered by the rest of the world,” jokes Harvard grad David X. Cohen, who wrote for the Simpsons before creating the cult hit Futurama. “It doesn’t hurt to have an Ivy League education. I certainly would encourage anyone to try to get into the Ivy League school of their choice, but it will not stop you from prime-time or late-night writing. MIT will be just fine.”