While the term “Wharton alumni” often brings with it associations of entrepreneurship, investment banking and consulting, there are some grads who have chosen to use their degrees to pursue a different kind of business—show business.
On Wednesday, February 1, the Wharton Club of New York will host The Ivy League of Comedy, a premier group of stand-up comedians known for their brand of clean, smart comedy. The line-up includes Shaun Eli Breidbart W83 and Dan Naturman W91, both of whom have traded the typical career path of a Wharton grad for a life on stage, telling jokes.
Breidbart, who is the founder and executive director of The Ivy League of Comedy, graduated from Penn and Wharton with a dual degree in Economics and Marketing. After graduation, he worked in banking for over 20 years, beginning his comedy career 14 years ago and quitting his day job to pursue his dream full-time six years later. He came up with the idea to create The Ivy League of Comedy after several of his coworkers attended his shows and applauded him for being both funny and clean—a combination they did not see in many of the show’s other comics.
“They would say, ‘I want to take clients to [comedy] shows, but I can’t really take them to filthy shows. Where are the clean shows?’ And there weren’t any. So I said, ‘Hey—Wharton brain working—here’s a demand for a product with no supply, so let me create the supply.’”
He decided to incorporate his Ivy League roots in the group’s name in order to appeal to corporations and organizations seeking classy, sophisticated comedy. Breidbart attributes much of his success to his marketing abilities and business mindset, noting the importance of marketing in creating his brand.
“Comedy is really one-third writing, one-third performing and one-third marketing. If you’re good at any two of them, you’ll be successful.”
Breidbart has demonstrated his aptitude in all three categories. He began his comedy career selling jokes and monologue material to Jay Leno and other late-night talk show hosts while he was still in banking. After a date convinced him to take a stand-up class, he began performing in comedy clubs and has since done shows at corporate events, charity fundraisers, country clubs, theaters and an embassy. He’s even done a small show in a barn. (“There were no cows in the barn,” he says.)
Unlike Breidbart, Dan Naturman realized his passion after receiving his degree in finance from Wharton and performing at open mic nights while studying law at Fordham.
“I think in the back of my mind, I always knew that I wanted to do comedy,” Naturman says. “But it just seemed silly, you know, not coming from a show business milieu. It seemed ridiculous. Had I grown up in L.A. around show folk, or in New York around show folk, it might’ve been different . . . But [back in Connecticut] people didn’t do those sorts of things, so it didn’t seem possible.”
In the 23 years that followed, Naturman has been featured on The Tonight Show, The Late Show with David Letterman and The Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson. He has even had his own Comedy Central Presents special and was a semi-finalist on America’s Got Talent.
While both Breidbart and Naturman expressed an interest in comedy during their Wharton years, neither anticipated that they would eventually turn stand-up into a full-time career.
“[Attending Wharton and Fordham] was me kind of just flopping along trying to figure myself out,” says Naturman. “But comedy was always in the back of my mind.”
Breidbart once had very different career goals: “I thought I would be captain of industry by the time I was 25, because that’s the Wharton mindset,” he says. “Somehow that didn’t happen. I’m still mystified.”