c/o Eliza Bender

c/o Eliza Bender

This week, The Argus sat down with comedian, actress, playwright, and certified hater Eliza Bender ’24. She told us about writing and producing her musical “Camp!” this past year and reflected on her four years in the comedy scene at the University. Read along to hear more about what does, and doesn’t, make her want to rip her face off. 

The Argus: What are your majors?

Eliza Bender: I’m a CSS [College of Social Studies] and American Studies double major [with a] concentration in media studies, or something like that.

A: What student groups are you involved in?

EB: I am a member of Hysterics [and] a member of the Desperate Measures improv group. I’m [also] a producer of Wesleyan Tonight and a former host and writer. I also guess I’m a member of Spike Tape. 

A: We posted on social media asking who the final WesCeleb should be. A lot of people voted for you there. Why do you think you were chosen? 

EB: Maybe peer pressure? No. Honestly, I have a really good first name [and] last name. I don’t even think it’s honestly about me. I put in the work to do stuff, and most of my stuff involves performance. But I think phonetically my name sounds nice. Eliza Bender is a pretty chef’s kiss name. So that already puts me at an advantage because I do think of myself as a first-name last-name person. 

A: What’s your middle name?

EB: Ruby. Eliza Ruby Bender. Phonetically a masterpiece. My parents did something amazing. Good signature, too. If you’re doing it in script, z is a rare script letter. You think you know what a z would look like in script, but then you see it written out. 

A: Can you tell us a little bit about your musical? 

EB: I co-wrote a musical with my good friend Sarah Linsly ’24. I met Sarah doing Hysterics, which is a comedy group on campus that’s open to everyone who does not identify as a cis man. We had been friends through that, and then we had done a play together in junior year, “Dance Nation,” directed by Vincent [Langan ’24] and Hadassa [Garfein ’24]. At the cast party, a couple of things happened. First, I tried poppers, and two minutes later I Googled “death from poppers.” I got so anxious. So she took care of me, because I was not dying from poppers. Then also, she threw out, “Would you like to write a musical together?” And in the moment, I was like, “I don’t know if I’m the right person to ask.” And then over the summer, I was like, “I am kind of the right person to ask,” and I really wanted to stage something that I had written before I graduated. I felt like having a partner and collaborator is a nice way of overcoming self-doubt. I’m really lucky that we have really similar senses of humor. Honestly, we clicked so immediately that the plot came together within a night of just texting. There’s a song in the musical called “One Piece,” which is about a character who is sort of having a hard summer because she’s the only girl who still wears a one piece [swimsuit] and still wishes camp was just camp, and not boys and hooking up and whatnot. I was like, “It should be like what ‘Michael in the Bathroom’ [by George Salazar] is in terms of plot, but it should sound like an Olivia Rodrigo song.” I would give sample lyrics and [Sarah] would be able to get 100% of what I was saying and come back to me with a track that’s perfect. And then Spike Tape accepted it. And we staged it. And I directed it. And it was really fun. And I love the people I worked with. And I love how nice people have been about it. And I hope it has a future.

A: What future do you see it having, if anything?

EB: A lot of people I didn’t know would come up to me and be like, “This has to be off-Broadway.” It’s a very nice compliment. That is a dream. But also it’s backhanded in a funny way, like, “This has to be in Brooklyn.” This has to be in a building where the other floors of the building are not theaters. 

A: What drew you to writing a musical?

EB: I feel like I have been writing plays for a long time, because I love to write and I grew up acting. I love story-building, and dialogue, and being able to mimic a real person and create a character. When I came here, I knew that I didn’t want to study theater, even though that is closer to the thing that I want to pursue. I love comedy. I think I have the same career aspirations that I’ve had since I was like eight: writing political satire, television writing, screenwriting and playwriting, comedic performance, and performance. It’s a matter of finding people that you [admire and researching] what they did before this. Where did they go to school? A lot of the comedians I love the most, like Hasan Minhaj, have a degree in political science. And that was honestly big for me. I love that guy. You have to read The New Yorker article. He was unfairly slandered.

A: Can you talk a little bit about doing comedy on campus? 

EB: I think a lot of goals for myself are pretty static. In high school, I was like, “I would be in an improv group in college because that’s probably what I would do.” It was weird because of COVID. I kind of joined Desperate Measures [DM] accidentally. I remember I was taping my radio show with Ben Gertner [’24]. We were in my freshman dorm room, and he was like, “I’m gonna go audition for this improv group.” So, I filled out the form, and I think I forgot about it. I was walking in the opposite direction and someone else who was auditioning was like, “Hey, aren’t you signed up to audition?” I was like, “Shoot, yeah,” and then I went, and it was just fun, and then I was in DM. It’s crazy that I stumbled into that, because Desperate Measures has shaped my college experience and brought me into the world of Wes comedy in such a big way. We all joined—Ariana Blaustein [’24], Ivor Clarke [’24], Noah Frato-Sweeney [’24], and me—at the end of our freshman year. An amazing rookie class, one for the ages. It was kind of surreal. It brought me into this world of people and it gave me such important role models but also people who were my friends. 

It’s so hard to watch comedy when you do comedy. I can’t go to stand-up shows in New York, because it makes me want to rip my face off watching people get paid to do the thing that I want to do, and doing it mid. I’m also a hater by birth. I’m a hater and a lover. I hate it in a way where it’s never that deep. I don’t really have terrible hate for anyone in my heart. But I love to hate. I love the Wesleyan comedy scene because, for the most part, it is just love. Desperate Measures has been just a center of love. I know that I love DM because I love to watch them. It doesn’t make me want to rip my face off.

A: Do you see yourself joining that atmosphere in New York?

EB: Oh, Jesus. I think the hater inside me motivates me to make stuff that is of high quality. Performance is so weird. Going to see a performance and going to see art is such a weird thing. You’re sitting down and you’re agreeing: I’m not gonna speak. You’re signing a contract. As a performer, you have to know the power that you have. It motivates me, because I don’t want to ever produce a thing that’s just coasting off the fact that I have charisma. I want it to be a good thing, or else I don’t want to do it. But also the fear of going to New York. I’m terrified. 

A: What are your post-grad plans? 

EB: I want to have more post-grad plans. I’m going to try to move to Chicago. I have a lot of family in Chicago. I love Chicago. I love the cold. One of my favorite activities is wearing a jacket, so that’s huge for me. I grew up in New York City. I love New York City. Sometimes going to New York City these days makes me want to rip my face off, it can feel so awful.

Realistically, I’ll live with my aunt. So I’m not too worried. My hope is I’ll go to Chicago, [maybe] work for a [political] nonprofit, maybe work for a crunchy Hebrew school. I grew up in a super crunchy Hebrew school, and I want to keep contributing to Jewish spaces in a non-Zionist way. Very diaspora-centric, and being able to contribute to Jewish communities that don’t center Zionism, because that’s how I grew up and I love that about how I grew up. Being able to contribute to that feels good and positive.

Also, [there’s a] big comedy [scene] in Chicago. I think that, when you don’t have major connections in the industry, you’re playing the long game. A lot of people get really eager, and they’re like, “I want to do TV, I want to do this,” and then they move to LA and they become a production assistant (PA). Being a PA does nothing. Being a PA is the worst thing that you could do, because you don’t get your foot in the door unless you already have a connection to that set. I just know a lot of people who go and they put everything into moving to LA and then they hate it, because being a PA is the worst thing you could do with your time.

Instead of trying to get a foot in the door in terms of being a PA or an intern, make your own content. My goal for 23 is that I’m happy and I treat others with respect, and also self-sufficient, making money, but also using any time I have to make projects. If you have an idea, make your own stuff. It takes so little to film the sketch; you have a phone. Write it, and if you can film it, even better. If what’s stopping you is that [you] don’t have the full resources to make a professional film, that’s fine, because if the heart of what it is is good, then it’ll attract people to get you the resources to make a quote, unquote, professional thing. That’s how I want to spend my time. 

A: If you could give your first-year self any advice, what would you say?

EB: I wish I took more dance classes. There is an alternate world in which I was also a film major. I think it took me a while at Wes to kind of tap out and just be a person. I think the beautiful thing at Wes is that there are more people I want to get to know and hang out with than I have time to. And that’s awesome. But it caused me so much anxiety, because there are a lot of people that I’m in this limbo space where we both like each other, but we’re not friends. That spot is, to me, the most intimidating. In my early days, what I needed to do was be the funniest person in the Usdan line. I needed to have a big personality. But I had a big turning point in my sophomore year.

Reach out to more people. Especially when you’re younger, nothing is so set in stone socially. Reach out to people that you like, because so many of the people that I spend the most time with, I didn’t get close with until junior year or even senior year.

I think the advice that I’ve tried to take, but also could even more take, is anything that you think is ambitious to do in college—like staging a show—gets 10 times more ambitious in the real world. So, exploit Wesleyan for its resources, get them to fund things, and borrow cameras because it becomes so much harder in the real world. Be ambitious. [Also] honestly, there are some times when I skip class, [but] I love class. So I wish I skipped fewer classes.

Lia Franklin can be reached at lfranklin@wesleyan.edu

Jo Harkless can be reached at jharkless@wesleyan.edu.

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