“Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” is the Sunday-night sensation that began airing in April of 2014. The show is surprising audiences around the country with its comedic investigative journalism, and one lucky Brandeisian is along for the ride. Josh Gondelman ’07 started working for the show last February and has now been nominated for an Emmy in Outstanding Writing for a Variety Talk Series.
Majoring in English and Creative Writing with a minor in Spanish, Gondelman truly started to dive into writing during his time at Brandeis. One of the main reasons that Gondelman chose to attend Brandeis was because of the ability to write a creative writing senior thesis. As a Creative Writing major he took various writing workshops, but said his favorite professor was Dr. Caren Irr (ENG). Not one for analyzing Shakespeare, he enjoyed her insight on contemporary film and media.
In true Brandeis fashion, Gondelman was quite active outside the classroom as a member of the improv troupe To Be Announced (TBA) and a regular performer at “Friends Like These”—a sketch comedy performance in Chum’s each Saturday at midnight. Gondelman wrote on and off for a few publications on campus, including one Arts article for The Brandeis Hoot. He was an Orientation Leader, and even performed in Liquid Latex once (though he prays no video evidence of this still exists). He believes that all of his experience at Brandeis really helped to prepare him for the outside world.
“Chum’s was such a great comedy womb to experiment in, and that was really important and formative,” said Gondelman. “I think I would have been behind the curve if I had waited until I graduated to start trying to write and perform comedy. It was exciting to have a little room in a castle to practice in.”
The nomination comes only months after Gondelman even started writing for the show. When he first started, he was writing and developing content for the show’s social media and web presence. It was only this year that Gondelman moved over to writing for the show itself.
Gondelman was initially drawn to “Last Week Tonight” because of the talent of everyone that he saw getting involved. John Oliver was previously known as a correspondent and guest-host at “The Daily Show.” In the end, he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to be part of such a “new creative venture from the ground up.”
The hardest part of working at “Last Week Tonight” according to Gondelman? “The ‘having a job’ part,” he said. After he graduated from Brandeis, Gondelman worked doing stand-up comedy and writing freelance for television and magazines. The transition from writing at home in sweatpants to having to go into an office every day was harder than he expected.
“It was an adjustment to go: ‘I have to come in … all week? Next week too? Okay, if you’re going to be sticklers about it,’” said Gondelman. “I sound like such a baby saying it,” he joked.
Luckily Gondelman has come around to showing up at work every day, and is enjoying the time he spends there. He calls the work “fulfilling and stimulating,” but also loves any opportunity to write a joke where “John” mentions Rick Ross, “or any rapper, really.”
Viewers of the show may remember episodes on sex education (8/9/15) and standardized testing (5/3/15). Gondelman had a hand in both of these influential segments. “Sometimes I’ll be assigned a story and have to go: ‘Well, I better learn what that is first,’” he noted. The standardized testing segment felt particularly good for Gondelman to write about, he said, as he used to be a teacher.
Despite his hard work, Gondelman was surprised that he’d been nominated for the Emmy. While it had occurred to him that the show as a whole would be nominated, he had no idea that he himself would be up for anything.
Gondelman still performs standup and has also co-written a book titled “You Blew It” that will be released on Oct. 6. The book, co-written with friend and Fast Company writer Joe Berkowitz, reminds readers that life is always a nightmare, even when you think you’ve got it handled. “You Blew It” is published by Plume, a Penguin Books imprint.
“I’m just the same dweeb I always was,” said Gondelman. The same one who chose to go to Brandeis because students at other schools just “felt like the villain in an ’80s teen movie,” and the same one who still gets excited remembering when his first-year hallmates stole a three-gallon bucket of ice cream from Sherman and made everyone milkshakes. “But now I’m an Academy Award Nominated Dweeb,” he realized. “Which is pretty fun and a little goofy.”