Princeton Arts Profiles

Arts at Princeton


When I began my freshman year at Princeton in 1998, I was on the field hockey team. Our team was very good. And I was also very good…at watching my team. Yes, mine was a career spent primarily on the bench, which is not a bad place to be, but is also not the best. Maybe you’ve seen the movie Rudy? I haven’t, but I’ve heard that it is about a college football player who spends most of his time on the bench. Anyway, in that sense, I was similar to Rudy from Rudy. I guess, if a movie had been made about my own experience in college sports, it would have been called: Ellie.

But this isn’t an essay about movie titles; it’s an essay about the importance of the arts at Princeton. After a year of supporting and cheering from the bench, I decided to leave the team at the beginning of sophomore year. Looking back, I am very happy that I made the decision when I did, because otherwise I would not have been able to audition for Quipfire! that September.

I had never seen a Quipfire! show before auditioning, but everyone seemed to love them. I don’t remember too much about the audition process, but I do remember feeling that I could be good at improvisation. I had been in plays and musicals in high school, and had taken a few classes in improvisation in ninth grade, but I was certainly not an expert. However, at its core, improvisation is purely about listening and responding, and I could do that.

I found out that I had made the Quipfire! troupe when the current members came singing down the Forbes Annex hallways and knocked on my door. After they picked me up, we went to fetch the two other new members—Scott Eckert and Brian Barrett—and then we all piled into Tommy Dewey’s pick-up truck and Chris Yakaitis’… I wanna say…Subaru?…to the Denny’s on Route 1.

I didn’t talk much at that first Denny’s meal, but I will remember it for the rest of my life. These people, of course, were very funny. However, I was mostly struck by how effortlessly the group got along. Members hailed from all corners of the United States; some were athletes, some were musicians, some were preppy, and some were nerdy. Some of them were loud, and some of them were quiet. But each member was very weird in his own special way. What united them was their total enjoyment of one another’s company, and their complete adoration of Denny’s.

If I hadn’t been a member of Quipfire!, I’m not sure what my college experience would have been like. I probably would have eventually torn my ACL during a practice drill and resigned myself to long, cold nights drinking my life away, deep in the bowels of Firestone Library, lamenting a career on the bench abruptly derailed.

Instead, I was a member of an insanely fun comedy troupe for three years. Simply put, my experience with Quipfire! was the most valuable time that I spent in college. These people became, and remain, some of the dearest friends that I have. I have since made a career out of my work in improv comedy. It is why I moved to New York after college, and continued to take improv classes. It is why Scott Eckert and I wrote and performed dozens of shows over the course of our years in the city. My work in Quipfire! shaped my entire understanding of, and approach to, comedy.

The most significant lesson I learned from Quipfire! is that work ethic and strong relationships will trump talent every time. You can be the most brilliant person on Earth, but that won’t necessarily make people want to spend long hours on a job with you. People who are cool and collaborative are the best people to work with. And, of course, it doesn’t hurt if they have a weakness for Moons Over My Hammy.

"Women Are Funny"

Ellie Kemper’s TEDxGatewayArch talk: