Ben Schwartz ’03 is still wondering how an Emmy Award ended up on his coffee table following Sunday night's awards ceremony.
Schwartz, a comedy writer and actor based in Los Angeles and New York City, was part of a team of writers behind the 81st Annual Academy Awards broadcast in February. The show, nominated for two Emmys, won an award for Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics for the opening song. A post-ceremony message on Schwartz’s Web site jokingly asks how the award ended up on his $68 Ikea coffee table.
The answer may simply be: hard work. After graduating from Union, Schwartz spent four years at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in New York City. After that, he began pestering "Saturday Night Live" and "The Late Show with David Letterman" as a freelance joke writer. The rejected jokes became the basis for his Web site.
The site began hosting short films that Schwartz wrote and acted in, which attracted a following and helped Schwartz land roles on ESPN's "Mayne Street" and in the upcoming movie "Peep World." It also led him to a spot on the comedy writing team for the Oscars.
The former anthropology and psychology major credits his Union education with helping hone his comedy writing “voice.”
“The majors were mostly writing based, so I did quite a bit of writing every day. Not necessarily comedy, but it teaches you how to develop your voice,” Schwartz wrote in an e-mail. “I also auditioned and acted in my first play, due to a mandatory audition you have to take if you are enrolled in the acting class. I took the class because I thought it would be relaxing and fun, also because I was curious to see if I could actually act. It was something that interested me for so many years."
At Union, Schwartz played Azdak in a 2003 production of "Caucasian Chalk Circle." He and his friends also compiled a series of short films around campus. That work was his first step toward becoming an Internet sensation using funny short films.
Interestingly, the Oscar’s show also was nominated for an Emmy for a variety, music or comedy special. In that category, Schwartz joined screenwriter and director Phil Alden Robinson ’71 on the comedy writing team.