A&O Winter Speaker: B.J. Novak


B.J. Novak had Pick-Staiger echoing with laughter when he visited Northwestern Saturday night as A&O Productions’ winter speaker. Best known for his role as office temp Ryan Howard on “The Office,” Novak also writes for and executive produces the show and was recently featured in a few episodes of best friend Mindy Kaling’s “The Mindy Project.”

After short sets from talented student comics Charlie Gingold, Dan Selinger and Aimee Hechler, Novak took the stage to thunderous applause that was, unfortunately, unaccompanied by Dwight Schrute-esque chants of “Temp! Temp! Temp!” His set never strayed into the monotonous territory of many other stand-ups because he took care to switch up the format of his jokes every now and then. He started off with some standard joke-telling, then reached into the briefcase he had brought on stage with him, pulled out a book and requested the lights be dimmed.

The book, he said, was a children’s detective novel he had been working on, “Wikipedia Brown.” In the story, as the boy detective and his friends try to discover who stole a bicycle from outside the library, they continually get sidetracked by Wikipedia Brown’s constant spurting of facts, strangely similar to the dangerously distracting, never-ending trail of links that can take a research paper-writing student from the Civil War to Ben Affleck in just six clicks.

After he finished reading the excerpt of his book, Novak took out a stack of index cards from his briefcase and dragged a trashcan to center stage, asking the audience if he could test out some new jokes. Depending on the audience’s reaction to each joke, he would either put the index card back in the briefcase or toss it in the trash, usually with a silly, self-deprecating aside. Whether he was actually trying out new jokes or the whole format of this segment was part of an over-arching joke, it worked. When corny jokes made it back to the briefcase or Novak wavered between dropping or keeping a controversial one-liner, the crowd played right along as if they were truly responsible for the content of his next show.

Halfway through the stack of cards, Novak took some time to introduce his friend Shy Puppet to the audience. Although Shy Puppet was originally enthusiastic about telling the punch line of a joke, his timidity overcame him time and again until Novak had no choice but to put him back in the briefcase.

“Some comedians force their puppets to talk,” he said. “I’m not going to make him talk if he doesn’t want to.”

He brought Shy Puppet back out, though, for a photo op. Photography was not allowed during the show, but Novak gave special permission at this point for students to take out their cameras. He struck a few poses with Shy Puppet, explaining that he wanted these pictures to be the only pictures available of his stand-up routine so that it looks like all he does is work with puppets.

After he finished the rest of his set, Novak held a short Q&A session, in which he struck down hopes for an “Office” movie after this spring’s series finale, stated that he and Mindy Kaling are nothing more than best friends, and avoided answering a student’s proposal of marriage.

Whether they bought tickets to see the six-time winner of the “Hottest in the Office” Dundie or just to kill some time Saturday night, students definitely were not disappointed by B.J. Novak’s hilarious show.