Lennox Cao/Sun Staff Photographer

B.J. Novak, who notably wrote, produced and starred in "The Office," shared his career journey and life experiences during an event at Barton Hall on March 19.

March 22, 2023

B.J. Novak Shares Wisdom, Stories From Entertainment Industry During Student-Run Event

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Over 1,300 Cornellians gathered in Barton Hall on Sunday for “An Evening with B.J. Novak,” a live, student-run event with the actor. Novak, who is best known for producing, writing and starring in “The Office,” visited Cornell to discuss his career, past projects and experiences as a Jewish-American working in the entertainment industry. 

The night consisted of a 30-minute moderated question and answer session led by senior lecturer Elliot Shapiro, who teaches Jewish Studies 2790: Jewish Films and Filmmakers: Hollywood and Beyond, followed by another half-hour of questions from the audience. Student volunteers from the show’s co-sponsors — Cornell University Programming Board and Cornell Hillel — helped coordinate and facilitate both portions of the event. 

CUPB is a student-run organization that brings speakers, comedians, athletes and other public figures to campus. As their biggest of the year, Novak’s event required months of planning, including hiring an outside professional production company to build a temporary stage. CUPB also gathered 40 student volunteers to check tickets, usher in audience members and work security detail. 

Natalie Baker ’25, one of the student volunteers who worked the event, has been a member of CUPB since September. She was stationed at the front door on Sunday and checked attendees’ tickets until the show began.

“I had an awesome time working as a volunteer. It was exciting to see so many different student organizations come together to work on the show, and satisfying to watch so many people’s hard work come to fruition,” Baker said. “As for B.J. Novak himself, he was hilarious and put on a great show. It was overall a very positive experience.”

Throughout the event, Novak rewatched clips from one of the “The Office” episodes that he wrote — such as “The Fire” — and spoke about his experience on the show. He recalled memories of working with the cast and reflected on how his writing process has developed since the show aired. 

Although Novak is a widely-known actor, student organizers worried that the event would struggle to attract enough students to fill Barton Hall’s seats. Miriam Canter ’24, CUPB executive chair, commented on the difficulties of achieving a significant turnout to campus events. 

“There’s an attention economy at Cornell,” Canter said. “There are so many people who are so busy doing their own thing and so much activity on this campus that often our biggest hurdle is just getting people to know about the event.”

To help spread the word and get more campus involvement, CUPB often partners with other clubs to co-sponsor the events. This past year they have worked with the LGBT Resource Center and the LGBTQ Student Union, Haven, along with La Asociación Latina. Along with sharing funding and preparation responsibilities, CUPB works with co-sponsoring clubs to pick a guest speaker that represents the interests of both organizations. 

Cornell Hillel, the home to Jewish student life at the University, helped CUPB decide on Novak. 

Responsible for introducing Novak to the audience, Rebecca Parish ’25, vice president of engagement of Cornell Hillel, said she was proud to work with CUPB to increase Jewish representation at Cornell.

“We knew we wanted to do a big event this year, and CUPB already brings in speakers, so it was a natural partnership,” Parish said. “It’s very inspirational for students to see people who are openly Jewish and proud of their Jewish identity, but who are also successful and in a wide range of careers.” 

Isabela Perez ’25 is a Sun News Staff Writer and can be reached at [email protected].