Jeff Kreisler (Law ’99) is a writer and comedian in New York City.
Charlottesville. December 1997. Baja Bean Company on The Corner. An open mic night.
In four days, I’d be leaving U.Va., leaving law school smack-dab in the middle, leaving good grades and better contacts, leaving big firm offers of guaranteed income, comfort and sanity. But tonight, in front of a handful of skeptical friends and another handful of self-obsessed acoustic “the-next-Dave-Matthews,” I was trying stand-up comedy for the first time.
I got on stage and raised a sheet of paper on which I’d written “T-H-I-S” and said, “Hey everybody, look at this!”
It got better. I mean, really, could it have gotten worse?
I ended up leaving C-Ville for about six months. Came back, got my degree, moved to San Francisco, passed the California bar and immediately started a career in, duh, comedy.
Jeff Kreisler at a book signing.
I’d always been interested in politics and culture and the formation of society and the interaction of man and constitutionalism. It’s why I went to law school. I wanted to be Thomas Jefferson or Thurgood Marshall. Turns out those jobs were taken. So, inspired by the setting, the history (Monticello!), and my colleagues at U.Va. law—an amazing, challenging and provocative place—I sought my own way to express my thoughts about all those big issues. I discovered comedy, where you can do whatever you want and talk about whatever you want just as long as you’re funny.
I’m kind of delusional about the power of comedy. I’m driven by the notion of the court jester, he who speaks truth to power and gets to wear curvy shoes. I think—especially in our modern culture—satire can inform and help make smarter citizens. It does; look at all the recent articles on Colbert Report and The Daily Show. And now I get to write and talk about the same stuff that inspired me to go to U.Va.: injustice, hypocrisy, the abuse of power, pirates, robots and Star Wars. So far, it’s turned out pretty well.
Jeff Kreisler with a poster for his show.
Almost—yikes—12 years later, I live in New York City and am an “award-winning, internationally touring comedian and writer.” HarperCollins just published my first book, the satire Get Rich Cheating. It came out of my Virginia lawyer fascination with corporate crime and the legal defenses of the great cheaters like Bernie Madoff, Ken Lay and others. (Bernie Ebbers’ “aw shucks” defense and Jeff Skilling’s claim of “sarcasm” when he suggested shredding documents are favorites.)
It’s kind of crazy looking back on what could have been, but—while I can’t say I have zero regrets (a few years of law income would have been nice)—I’m glad I’ve made the choices I have.
New York City. June 2009. Caroline’s Comedy Club on Broadway. A book party and comedy show.
I take the stage, look at the sold-out room and think to myself, “Hey everybody, look at this.”