Comedians might seem silly, sometimes naïve or even unintelligent. Comedy, after all, is a tough job that requires that someone not take themselves too seriously. It often involves working endless gigs in small clubs for little to no money. So it’s no surprise that many wrongfully believe that even the most popular comedians aren’t highly educated.
But that’s a completely false assumption. Jerry Seinfeld, for example, one of the best comedians of this generation, who has worked both in television and as a stand-up comic, went to both the State University of New York and Queens College, where he obtained a degree in communications and theater.
And he’s not the only comedian out there with post-secondary education. Here are 10 comedians that you probably didn’t know went to ivy league and well-respected schools.
10 Whitney Cummings
This funny woman, who just released a stand-up special on Netflix called Can I Touch It?, went to the University of Pennsylvania, where she managed to graduate with a degree in Communications in just three years, magna cum laude.
Now a successful comedian, actor, producer, writer, and director, she had initially studied to become a journalist, then pivoted to comedy. To pay her way through school, she worked as a department store model. She then went on to appear as a roundtable guest on late-night talk show Chelsea Lately, created and starred in her own sitcom Whitney, and created the successful sitcom 2 Broke Girls, which ran for six seasons.
9 Conan O’Brien
It’s perhaps not a well-kept secret, but O’Brien went to and graduated from Harvard with degrees in History and Literature. But most notably, he was a writer for The Harvard Lampoon, the school’s humor magazine.
Graduating magna cum laude, O’Brien’s future boss at NBC, Jeff Zucker, was coincidentally president of the school newspaper The Harvard Crimson at the same time. O’Brien went on to write for shows like Saturday Night Live and The Simpsons. He currently hosts his own popular late-night talk show, Conan, and continues to do comedy tours, the last of which was in 2018. Photo: Gage Skidmore
8 Lisa Lampanelli
She’s bubbly, self-deprecating, and utterly hilarious as the stand-up comedian dubbed the Queen of Mean. But it isn’t all fun and games for this ivy league comedian. Lampanelli graduated from Harvard with a Masters in Journalism.
She snagged this prestigious line for her resume after graduating first from Syracuse University. She started to continue her educational endeavors further at Columbia University, with the goal of becoming a teacher, but somewhere along the line, opted for comedy instead. And we’re all happy she decided to go that route and bring us so many laughs. Photo: David Shankbone
7 Rachel Dratch
When you think of goofy sidekick characters and memorable Saturday Night Live performers and characters, Dratch (Debbie Downer) is probably near the top of your list. But this Dartmouth College alum graduated with degrees in Drama and Psychology while serving as a member of the school’s improvisational comedy group Said and Done. She also went on to be part of The Second City comedy troupe.
Her most notable role was as a cast member on Saturday Night Live from 1999 through to 2006, but she has also appeared in a number of TV series and films and published her own autobiographical book. Photo: David Shankbone
6 Ellie Kemper
Graduating with a degree in English from Princeton University, Kemper spent time with the school’s improv comedy troupe Quipfire while there, which must have given her the acting and comedy bug.
She went on to pursue a graduate degree in English from Worcester College, but ultimately opted for acting and writing as her career path. In addition to serving as a contributing writer for the satirical newspaper The Onion, a gig fans might not even know she has, this actor and comedian is best known for her roles on series like The Office and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.
5 Bill Maher
Calling Cornell University his alma mater, having graduated in 1978 with degrees in English and History, Maher has joked that he sold pot to help pay his way through school and bank enough money to pursue his love of comedy.
Whatever road got him there, Maher went on to become one of the most well-known figures in comedic political commentating with his own talk shows Real Time with Bill Maher and Politically Incorrect, the former of which continues its long run and the latter that aired from 1993-2002.
4 Robert Klein
Studying Drama at Yale Drama School, Klein initially went to Alfred University to study medicine. But while at Yale, he auditioned for the prestigious comedy theater troupe The Second City, which got him hired alongside Fred Willard. And the rest is history.
He then went on to star on TV, movies, in theater productions, and have his own comedy specials and albums. He currently plays Grace’s father on the revival of the NBC sitcom Will and Grace, taking over for Alan Arkin, who filled the role in the original.
3 Mindy Kaling
Another Dartmouth graduate, Kaling graduated in 2001 with a degree in Playwriting. Joking in her memoir Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? that she went there to “pursue [her] love of white people,” she, like others on this list, was a member of the school’s improvisational comedy troupe The Dog Day Players.
It was clear that Kaling was destined for big things in comedy as she went on to serve as an intern for Conan O’Brien, then wrote for and starred in The Office and wrote, produced, and starred in her own series, The Mindy Project.
2 Jenny Slate
This funny woman who has appeared in series like Parks and Recreation and House of Lies, provided her squeaky voice for the animated film The Secret Life of Pets, and spent one season as a cast member on Saturday Night Live, attended Columbia University, majoring in Literature.
She not only worked with but also helped form the improv group Fruit Paunch. While there, she teamed up with Gabe Liedman who became her comedy partner in the duo Gabe & Jenny, and they put on live stand-up shows.
1 Demetri Martin
This stand-up comedian attended the prestigious Yale University and graduated in 1995 with a major in History. Rising to prominence as a contributor on The Daily Show, he currently stars as Ice Bear in We Bare Bears, an animated series on the Cartoon Network.
Not only did he graduate from Yale, but he was also admitted to Harvard. Instead, he opted to go to New York University School of Law after getting a full scholarship. But he ended up withdrawing to pursue comedy, a decision that he likely does not regret.