Oberlin Blogs

A night with Ed Helms

September 14, 2009

Brandi Ferrebee ’10

Many Oberlin students are fans of the TV show The Office, so when we found out that Ed Helms, Oberlin alum and the actor/comedian that plays Andy on the show, people got extremely excited. Admission was free to his convocation event, but you had to have a ticket - and they were gone within hours of the box office opening for distribution. I was lucky enough to have already been offered a ticket by Clyde, who also invited me to the traditional pre-convocation dinner held beforehand for the higher-ups of the college to celebrate the speaker. All in all, I was extremely lucky to be invited and tried not to tell too many of my harder-core Office fan friends lest they never speak to me again for jealousy.

The dinner was filled with awesome moments, like a tailored goody-bag. First off, several of my friends were there. I had expected to see Aries, kindred soul and bloggerboss, and was not surprised to see my friends who are student senators. (No matter how much work might be involved, it can't be denied that there are perks to being a student senator. Like meeting all the awesome people who roll through Oberlin and getting free food.) I was not expecting to see Erin, my fellow southern belle who is both a classical bassist in the conservatory and one of the Black River Belles, one of my favorite Oberlin bands. Erin, Eugene (her beau), and I wound up sitting at the same table during a dinner filled with delightful surprises. President Krislov read to Helms from his original application to Oberlin, presented him with a photograph of Helms' name on the marquee of Oberlin's beloved Apollo theater, and then, THEN, the Obertones serenaded Ed Helms.

Helms is known among Oberlin students for his reference in The Office to having been in an a capella group in college. Helms was actually a member of the Obertones, our only all-male a capella group, during his time at Oberlin, so seeing the current Obertones sing a medley of love songs to him was a huge delight. Oh, and I'm personally a huge fan of the group and of many of the guys individually, so I let out a rather loud squeal of joy, in true groupie style, at their appearance. (While squeals of delight are the norm at Obertone performances generally, I should have hesitated before I exclaimed so shrilly in a room where the average age was probably forty-something. We'll just say I was the lone guest who so audibly illustrated my affection.)

During the Obertones' serenade, I saw the president's son, Jesse, sneak over to the head table. I've started sitting for the Krislovs, so getting the added joy of seeing one of the coolest 12-year-olds I know meet one of his favorite actors sweetened the night even more than the lovely desserts.

Once Clyde and I got over to Finney Chapel, we settled into our seats near the front. (Again, thanks to Clyde for being the bigwig alum he is and for some reason deciding that he thinks I'm special.) When Helms hit the stage, he got a monumental amount of applause, and his following stand-up section where he riffed on his time at Oberlin was received joyously by all the students, alums, staff, and townspeople in the audience.

The most wonderful moment for me, however, was when Helms called two fellow alums and my aforementioned Belle friend, Erin, onto the stage and they proceeded to have a bluegrass jam session on stage. Turns out that Atlanta native Helms plays banjo and was a member of a bluegrass band while he was at Oberlin. I about lost it with joy over this, because I don't get a whole lot of bluegrass when I'm away from my extended Virginia/West Virginia family, and I was already giddy with joy over so many wonderful people and happenings.

After playing about a half-dozen songs, Helms took questions from the audience, answering in such a way that most everyone who was a fan of anything Ed Helms or Oberlin enjoyed themselves enormously. (For a play-by-play of Helm's convocation, see Joe's post.)

After we all streamed out of Finney after the convocation, I met up with varied of-age friends from the Communications office (Ben Jones, Aries, etc.) at the Feve, Oberlin's watering hole. Ben joyfully tipped us off that Helms & musical friends were going to be performing a bluegrass encore on the porch of Tank, the co-op where Helms and the mandolin player were roommates at Oberlin. We headed over and I morphed into the clapping fiend I am when bluegrass (or swing, for that matter) is involved. I congratulated Erin on her excellent playing, and then watched her Black River Belles and the Outhouse Troubadours (the two major bluegrass bands on campus) absorb Helms and friends to create a giant, organic jam session on the wrap-around porch of one of Oberlin's homiest buildings.

Before Clyde and I parted ways earlier in the night, he said that the night had been one of his best times at Oberlin. I certainly found the night to be stuffed with gloriously wonderful moments, but to me it was not so rare. Though most nights here don't include famous comedians, the basic elements are what make Oberlin for me: friends, music, witty humor, and genuine appreciation of each other's talents.


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