Here's an article about Harvard's impact on the comedy-writing business.
In the comedy writing world, being a Lampoon (or even just a Harvard) alum at least guarantees some recognition. But being funny is an obvious prerequisite. "No one would hire a bad writer from Harvard over a talented one from somewhere else," says Michael Reiss '81, formerly executive producer of "The Simpsons." Other alums dispute the notion of a direct "pipeline" to Hollywood. "The big myth about the Lampoon is that you'll automatically get a job," says Malis, although his credibility is suspect.
talent vs. opportunity
Lampoon connections, however, do ensure that scripts get read, one of the biggest obstacles to making it big in the entertainment biz. "Talent is one thing, but opportunity is another," says Mark O'Donnell '76. While writing for SNL, a job that he landed without the help of the Lampoon, O'Donnell saw countless unsolicited scripts come in the mail, an indication of the tough market that exists for aspiring comedy writers. "There were piles and piles of them in this one room," he says. "It looked like a Staten Island junk yard." Not always on the receiving end, O'Donnell once found himself at a Christmas party chatting with the editor of the New York Times Sunday Magazine. "I love your humor; you should send it to us," he said. "I already have," O'Donnell replied. Where luck is key, the Lampoon can make you luckier. There's no shortage of wannabe writers, and almost everyone in the business acknowledges that being Harvard, and particularly Lampoon, helps to rise above the crowd. "The industry is connection-based," says Gail Gilmore, a councilor at Harvard's Office of Career Services. "I encourage students to use the connections." Harvard writers tend to work on shows with a number of fellow alums--"The Simpsons" employed 10 Lampoon writers out of its total of 12 at one point.
Almost all alums in hiring positions try to downplay the deference they give to other grads. "I don't necessarily give any preference to Lampoon people, but sometimes they have more experience," says Bill Oakley '88, a one-time Simpsons writer, now producing his own animated show, "Mission Hill." The large number of Lampoon grads in Hollywood and the perception of easy connections to jobs has given rise to the nomer "Lampoon mafia." "There is a definite Mafia," says Patricia A. Marx '75, the first female member of the Lampoon. "The Lampoon has a lot to do with it. We came out of college having done this for four years." The Lampoon comp is similar to getting a job in the real world, where writers produce speculative scripts, a sort-of comedy writer's resume. Says Reiss, "They really weed out a lot of people."
But not attending Harvard doesn't mean you're shit out of luck. "If you have a great script, you can even come from the University of Florida," says Adam Braun, a comedy agent out in LA. "[The Lampoon's] a leg up, but it's not the be-all, end-all." Billy Kimball '81, executive producer for "The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn," asserts that the Lampoon connection doesn't sway him in any way. "Agents call me all the time saying 'so and so is from Harvard' as if that is supposed to excite me," he says.
Some Poonsters, have had first-hand experience with the "Lampoon mafia." "They slashed my tires and beat me up; I saw them kill a guy. It's very real," says Rodman Flender '84, director of the recent film "Idle Hands." Reiss has a lighter take on the situation. "It's unfair to call it a "Lampoon Mafia" because the Mafia has a code of honor," he says.