Cold calls. Your professors love them. You fear them. Your ed rep crushes them. We think it’s about time that this HBS staple gets the rebranding it deserves. Each week, The Harbus chats with a randomly selected member of the student body. This week, Diane Chang caught up with Claire Freidman (NE) about her life as stand-up comedian, transitioning into entertainment full time, and her big plans for the day after the end of the world.
DC: OK, let’s set the scene. Tell me a little about yourself – where you’re from, what you did before school, and what you’re hoping to do after.
Claire: I have an interesting and diverse background. I was born and raised in New York City. I went to Harvard for undergrad, moved back to New York after college, where I worked in investment banking for five years, and then I moved back here.
DC: What made you think you wanted to go to business school or Harvard or all of the above?
Claire: I’m a career switcher. I had a great time doing investment banking, but I’ve always been interested in entertainment, and have always wanted to work in that industry. I know there are a lot of people from HBS who go on to work in film or television, which is what I’m interested in doing.
DC: Like who? Are there many famous alum? Is it like Harvey Keitel went to HBS??
DC: [Embarrassed and scrambling for another Harvey…] I’m not sure why I just said Harvey Keitel. I think I meant Harvey Weinstein…
Claire: [politely lets it go] Alan Horn. Michael Lynton. Many of the people I can think of probably aren’t super famous, but I want The Harbus fact checkers to do a fine comb over this information!
DC: Is it a specific type of entertainment? Entertainment business or is it “I want to be a writer on Game of Thrones?”
Claire: Eventually I’d like to do something in the entertainment world that advances the role of women in Hollywood. Particularly in comedy. I’m also very interested in how the TV business model is unfolding.
DC: Do you have a cable subscription?
Claire: My fiancé in New York has a cable subscription… and we share our assets. So, yes? Here I use Netflix, Hulu, YouTube and Amazon Prime, and of course any other future potential employers that I forgot to list!
DC: What is it that you love about TV?
Claire: Everything! Content. I like comedy – writing, consuming, etc – and television is a great platform for comedy.
DC: Tell me more about your writing!
Claire: I left my finance job last March and took a course in sketch comedy at the Upright Citizens Brigade in New York. I’ve also done stand-up comedy for most of my life. I started doing stand-up comedy when I was 9 and did it all through high school. I stopped doing it in college because I was writing for the Lampoon, but went back into performing some nights while I was working in NYC. I intended to do it here… but I haven’t had time to work on any of my material.
DC: How was your first stand-up experience?
Claire: I think it was fun, but honestly, I don’t really remember. Maybe that means it was traumatic?
DC: How did you decide to try it?
Claire: I wanted to go on stage when I was little but I had no discernible talent. I couldn’t sing, I couldn’t dance, and I couldn’t act. But I did tell a lot of jokes, so my mom was like – why don’t you just tell a lot of jokes on stage? Somehow I convinced my nine-year-old self that stealing jokes from America Online and saying them to people was a talent, so I entered a talent show and came in third place! I won a $10 Barnes and Noble gift certificate, even though I lost to an angelic girl who sang Doe a Deer. I wonder what she’s up to now…
DC: What are your tips and tricks for working the crowd? Do you literally have moments of ‘ooh, is this thing on??”
Claire: All the time. I think stand-up comedy has helped a little bit in classes… I’m used to bad audience reactions.
DC: Gimme the goss on your experience at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade.
Claire: It’s not as exciting as it sounds. I took sketch comedy classes…very much a writer’s room. You got a topic or sketch theme every week and had to write about it. For example, you had to have a topical sketch, so I wrote a television commercial parody that was a girl scout attack ad “made by” American Crossroads…basically spoofing all the negative political attack ads, ruining another Scout’s opportunities. Like, “Sarah says she’s selling cookies in order to go to Space Camp… but Sarah’s already been to Space Camp.”
DC: Do you feel a certain sympathy for professors when they try and crack jokes?
Claire: Most of our professors are actually quite funny. I’ve been very impressed, particularly by the consistent use of puns.
DC: Do you ever make jokes in class?
Claire: No way. You get that one little window, and I’m not going to squander it on a joke! Can you imagine if I had my hand up for 75 minutes…and then I say “Guys. What’s the deal with…”
DC: As a CAREER SWITCHER, you’re legit living the HBS dream. Do you feel it will be a slog or it’s exactly as you expected it, and everything’s on track.
Claire: I’m not too worried… yet. The entertainment process takes place later in the year, so ask me again in March when I’m holed up in my room memorizing back issues of Variety.
DC: What other HBS career clichés have you run into?
Claire: I’ve seen a lot of consultants. They are not kidding when they say there are a lot of consultants here.
DC: So Claire, I must ask, you said you had a fiancé with cable?
Claire: Not just cable: Triple Play.
DC: When is the wedding, and how is it planning a wedding while also doing cases?
Claire: The wedding is December 22, the day after the world ends according to the Mayan calendar. I think that’s good luck for us? As I get closer to the wedding, my priorities are shifting, like now I’m making sure I go to the gym. I haven’t yet resorted to reading cases on the elliptical, but we’ll see how desperate I get in November. But my fiancé has been very helpful with all the planning.
DC: Anything else you want us to know?
Claire: [Insert shameless plug for Entertainment & Media Summit on December 8, 2012. On the HBS campus. So conveniently located! It’s going to be awesome! Tickets are on sale now!]