Ed Helms

Helms looks back on his days at Oberlin College, where he created his own major, rappelled off buildings, and developed a satirical edge.


Originally posted November 10, 2005.

Many consider actor Ed Helms, brown-nosing salesman from NBC's The Office, the next face of American comedy. A former correspondent for The Daily Show, Helms has also appeared in recent blockbusters like Evan Almighty, Walk Hard, and Semi-Pro. Approaching his first leading role in A Whole New Hugh, which he is also co-writing and plans to release sometime next year, Helms looks back on his days at Oberlin College, where he created his own major, rappelled off buildings, and developed a satirical edge.

Name: Ed Helms

Occupation: Writer, comedian, actor
College attended: Oberlin College
Major: Film theory and technology
Graduation date: Spring 1996
Academic awards: 0
Nickname: ED2000 ("Enforcement Droid 2000" from the movie Robocop)
Favorite drink/midnight snack: We made home fries a lot. With cayenne pepper and tons of ketchup. Delicious. How/why did you choose your major?

I was a geology major through my sophomore year. That took me to the Bahamas for a month for "research," which was great, but it also showed me how completely uninterested I was in geology. I wanted to change majors, but I had limited options because I had been through two years of course study already. So, out of desperation, I opted for Oberlin's "Design Your Own Major." I cobbled together a number of theater, computer science, film studies, and art classes in a Hail Mary attempt to graduate in four years. Somehow the committee bought it and thus "Film Theory and Technology" was born. I am the only person in the world with that major...and for good reason. Activities (sports, music, clubs, theater?)I was on the swim team my freshman year. It was tough and consumed way too much time. I played an embarrassing amount of Frisbee and hacky sack. I played and sang in a really good bluegrass band called Weedkiller (three of us still play together). I was in Oberlin's chorus, which was incredible. I was in an improv comedy group called Primitive Streak. That was really fun. I also did a couple of plays.

Do you keep in touch with any of your college friends?

Absolutely. My best friend is a college buddy. And a handful of college friends still hang out regularly. What was your favorite hangout spot?

I lived in a co-op called Tank my sophomore year. That was a great place to hang out. Lovely wrap-around porch and large front yard. Always a lot of people milling around. Incidentally, we started a "Beers of the World" bottle collection in the dining room, which I believe is still there and growing. Otherwise, I spent unholy amounts of time in the basement of Mudd Library and, of course, the bucolic Tappan Square. On quarter beers night, The 'Sco was a no-brainer. But THE place to be was a coffee shop run by my friend Jason called "The Feve." Were you a bookworm or a slacker? 

was on a weird curve. I started out a total slacker and by my senior year I was a hardcore bookworm with straight A's. Who was your role model when you were in college?

For as long as I can remember my role models have been [comedian] Phil Hartman and my brother Paxton. What was the biggest obstacle you overcame in college?

My roommate and very close friend died of illness in the middle of my senior year. It shook the whole campus and left me in a very weird mental state for quite some time. It was hard to get back in the saddle after that. On the bright side, his friendship is very much a part of who I am today. Tell us about one thing you did in college that still makes you proud.

I helped bring film production back to the Oberlin campus after decades of dormancy. My senior project was the first 16-mm film produced on campus since the '70s. And I rappelled off the side of Peter's Hall in the middle of the night. What did you like most and least about your school?

My biggest complaint about Oberlin was that too many kids were "too cool for school," and I bought into that for a while. Thankfully I became disillusioned with slackerdom and wound up becoming a nerd again. Also, the politically correct movement was in full swing, which was essentially institutionalized insecurity. Though clearly well intentioned, political correctness was riddled with flaws and paradoxes, creating a rather frustrating environment. On the other hand, Oberlin has some wonderful and passionate professors. Also the Oberlin community has an amazing connection to music that can't be found anywhere else. Music in every form is ubiquitous at Oberlin, and that is truly special. Tell us one way in which college changed you.

College made me realize that I have no patience for arrogant, dogmatic people and that I must therefore devote my life to undermining and satirizing those people. If you could go back, what about college would you do differently?

I would try to relax and have more fun. Party a lot more and not stress about my future. Also, there was this really lovely woman named Tina who I never got to know...oh, well. What were two things you did for the first time while in college?

1. Smoked pot
2. Had my heart broken Schools applied to:

Northwestern, Vanderbilt, University of Georgia, Oberlin College Got in:

Vanderbilt, University of Georgia, Oberlin College Didn't get in:

Northwestern If applicable, any thoughts on why you were rejected by specific schools?

I had very bad grades in high school and a very high SAT score. That spells "slacker" to most admissions personnel. Quite accurately, I might add.