“Who is that serious, kind of a little creepy guy?” Eamon Murphy ’08 remembers asking himself when he met his future co-director David Litt ’08 at The Ex!t Players callbacks their freshman year.
While Litt has since asserted a more appealing and sophisticated identity — editing the Yale Record, traveling to China and becoming a published author — Murphy can still recall Litt’s early days on campus as the “compact and witty” kid with a full-length beard on only half of his face and a chipped tooth from wiping out on Old Campus.
Murphy was not alone in initially failing to see the capacity for creativity behind Litt’s serious facade. He started performing comedy just to prove he could do it. His quest to assert his capacity for hilarity eventually brought him to New York City nightclubs, where he performed stand-up throughout high school.
He may take his comedy seriously, but Litt relishes kookiness, especially in improv.
“The great thing about The Ex!t Players is that they are weird in interesting and exciting ways,” he explained.
Litt appreciates that this phenomenon is unique to Yale, where comedians can make jokes not just about sex and alcohol but also about “Paradise Lost” and “The Iliad” — and the audience loves it.
Improv comedy is inherently off-the-wall: put a bunch of funny people up on stage together and something wacky is bound to happen. The director’s job, Litt said, is to guide the madness by coordinating logistics and leading rehearsals.
“Humor is tough,” Litt said. The trick to maximizing success is making sure everyone plays by the rules, the most important of which is “yes, and” — the rule that players should never contradict what another character asserts, but instead accept and add to it.
Litt’s “yes, and” mentality has also led him to take advantage of Yale’s grants and ties with China to travel there for two summers. He said the low violent-crime rate makes the country a “nice place to be if you like doing impulsive things.” After exploring the countryside and bicycling through Beijing, Litt took a break to intern for The Onion, the popular humor publication for which he still writes headlines.
Ben Orlin ’09, Litt’s successor as editor of the Yale Record, said Litt has not only the “very quick humor mind” essential for improv and stand-up but also the skills necessary for humor writing. Litt explained that while the success of live comedy is based largely on confidently saying ridiculous things, humor writing must be, first and foremost, well-written. Litt’s skills as an author have gotten him published not only as a humorist, but also as a political commentator in national Jewish student magazine “New Voices” and a contributor to McSweeney’s online magazine.
Litt, a history major, does not have any concrete plans for after graduation and has resolved to answer “jury duty” to all queries. And while he is slightly intimidated by the thought that not everyone in the real world will enjoy glib references to dead white guys, he looks forward to his unplanned adventures after commencement, possibly back in China.
Who knows? Maybe this summer will find an older, wiser, but still kind of a little creepy Yale grad doing improv riffs at the Beijing Olympics.