B.J. Novak, best known for co-writing “The Office” and playing its hilarious and depraved con man character Ryan Howard, will culminate the Katz JCC’s Festival of Arts, Books and Culture with a talk on Nov. 13.
Novak’s appearance will begin at 7 p.m. in the Lahn Social Hall at the Cherry Hill, New Jersey facility. Tickets are $75 for JCC members and $95 for guests. You can buy them on the JCC’s website or at this link: howclix.com/event/novak.
“The Office” co-star grew up in a Jewish family in the Boston area and attended the Solomon Schechter Day School and Camp Ramah. His talk will conclude a week’s worth of events that feature an illusionist and several authors.
But Novak is the biggest name on the list. The co-writer of the classic NBC sitcom has been busy in recent years, too. Over the past two years, he has written and starred in a black comedy movie, “Vengeance,” and created and produced a Hulu series, “The Premise.”
A JCC email about the event called Novak a “multi-talented pioneer” and “authority on turning raw creativity into bona fide success.” The writer, actor and producer did not agree to be interviewed for this story or to make himself available at the talk.
“He’s an intellectual. He’s a smart person. I like that,” said Roberta Abramowitz, one of the festival’s co-chairs. “Smartness appeals to a lot of people.”
The Jewish kid from Boston “began his career as a stand-up comedian” in the early 2000s, the event email said. He landed his “Office” job when the show’s executive producer, Greg Daniels, enjoyed his routine at a comedy club, according to a Boston Globe article from 2009.
The sitcom’s nine-year, 201-episode run ended in 2013, and its co-writer went on to sign a seven-figure book deal with Alfred A. Knopf. In 2014, he published a book of short stories, “One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories,” and a children’s title called “The Book with No Pictures.” Both spent weeks on The New York Times bestseller list.
He has also created an app and maintained an on-again, off-again relationship with fellow comedian and “Office” star Mindy Kaling. He has even advised corporations on how to apply the “collaborative, improvisational spirit of The Office’s writing room to their teams,” according to the event email. In other words, not unlike his “Office” character, who created a website and got promoted to corporate, among other ventures, Novak has done a lot. Ryan Howard even had an on-again, off-again relationship with Kaling’s character, Kelly Kapoor, in the show.
“He encourages listeners of all ages and backgrounds to embrace the unknown by breaking out of established formats and modes of thinking, while emphasizing the inherent importance of approaching every endeavor with a sense of humor,” said the email.
In a summer interview with JewishBoston to promote “Vengeance,” Novak discussed how his Jewish upbringing shaped him. Perhaps not surprisingly, he said Jewish humor influenced him more than any other aspect of his religion. Novak’s father William Novak helped edit “The Big Book of Jewish Humor,” which included contributions from Woody Allen, Lenny Bruce and Joseph Heller.
“I think looking at things with an outsider’s eye is very Jewish,” Novak told JewishBoston. “I think, ‘How can I somehow outsmart this bad hand I’ve been dealt?’ is the root of a lot of Jewish humor, and I think my favorite type of Jewish humor.”
The Katz JCC is trying to outsmart the hand of an aging membership base. Novak is seen as a solution…for one night at least.
Abramowitz said Novak was recommended to her as a possible speaker by a younger JCC staffer. She is hoping his appearance brings in millennials who love “The Office.” The JCC is putting out the word on social media to people in nearby towns like Collingswood and Haddonfield.
“I think that every institution wants to see itself survive,” Abramowitz said. “We want to bring people into the JCC and maintain it.” JE