George John Jordan Thomas Aquinas Hayward strides onto the stage at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business in a dark suit, and the stream of stories and jokes begins. An hour later, after talking grades, politics, sports, food, relationships, hip-hop, and many, many other topics, Hayward has nearly paced a hole in the floorboards and the crowd is wrung out from laughing and cheering. It’s a good thing there’s no second act.
Hayward is sharing his “motivational comedy” to raise awareness for local grief support charity Kara at the Stanford student-organized event Talk to Em (see video below) at the 300-seat Cemex Auditorium in Zambrano Hall. He talks to one side of the room filled with law students, then pivots to the other side, where the business students sit. It’s a perfect metaphor: Hayward is a JD/MBA joint degree candidate, and if the audience reaction is any indication, he has a finger on the pulse of both worlds.
“What I did in this comedy show was, I kind of compared and contrasted the schools,” Hayward tells Poets&Quants in an interview a couple of weeks later. “What you see is, the crowd was laughing because there’s a lot of commonality. People have a lot more in common than they have differences because of their specialties. There are different application processes, and yes, there are differences, but generally they are more similar than they are different.”
ROLLING IN THE AISLES
From the start, Hayward has the crowd in the palm of his hand. But he isn’t in it for the laughs alone. Some things “need to be said,” he asserts.
He talks about the “Low Pass,” GSB’s rating for performances that fall in the lower quarter of all passing grades: “What does a Low Pass mean when the average GMAT score is 737? … What does a Low Pass mean when you accept 6% of the kids who apply? What do you give the six out of 100 who get in? I have a suggestion: You give them a round of applause! You give them two free tickets to Hamilton. You do not give them a Low Pass. I may be discombobulated, disaggregated, and disappointing, but I’m not a ‘low’ anything. We need to tell these deans what the meaning of ‘low’ is, because they forgot!”
He talks about consulting interviews: “I had a consulting interview and I don’t want to give away the name of the firm so I’ll call it McKimsey. And this firm said, ‘OK, how’s your resume? Fine. How’s your transcript? Fine. Time for the case question! How many ping-pong balls can fit in a Boeing 777?’
“Well I read Case in Point, so I can handle this. So I said, ‘You put 100,000 in one wing, 100,000 in the other wing, that’s 200,000, 100,000 in the fuselage, that’s 300,000, 50,000 in the cockpit, so 350,000 ping-pong balls is my final answer.’ He’s like ‘No. Completely wrong.’ I was like, ‘How is that wrong OR right?’ ‘You forgot the luggage compartment.’
“So I didn’t get that job because I’m not smart enough to count the ping-pong balls in the airplane. And that’s when it hit me. I said, ‘If you do know the number of ping-pong balls in an airplane, you’ve got the problem, bud, not me! You’re missing out on a lot of life!”
But then there are the pure laughs. Hayward talks about job interviews where his two ‘Cs’ in Mandarin Chinese always come up: “‘Well , George, what about these two Cs?’ And I tell them, ‘Well, Chinese is hard.’ And they said, ‘So is our job. Out!'”
He talks about stress, the kind caused by administrative hurdles as well as the kind caused by feedback: “Have you heard that feedback is a gift? Have you heard that? Feedback is a gift. In law school the only feedback you get on a 20-page exam is a scribble, a scribble, ‘that subject doesn’t agree with that verb, P.’ Here we get feedback all the time. ‘Feedback is a gift, feedback is a gift.’ It’s a gift I don’t want! Take that gift back to the store! Return it! It’s not so much positive feedback I have an issue with — that I can handle. It’s that negative feedback that really gets me going. I had a friend who definitely is not me who gave his girlfriend some feedback two weeks ago and I had to spend last night making him a new Bumble profile.”
FOUNDATIONS OF ‘MOTIVATIONAL’ COMEDY
There is no topic George Hayward can’t talk about at length. His boyish face belies 27 years of wide perspective, as he might say, from growing up in a household strained by illness to graduating from Harvard to helping his mother afford to stay in their family home after the death of his father. Hayward has interned for then-Senator Barack Obama, been a fellow in the offices of current New Jersey Senator Cory Booker and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, and interned for then-California Attorney General, now California Senator Kamala Harris.
The son of a black mother, Jennifer — “my main girl” — and a white father, George, who died in 2010, Hayward grew up in White Plains, New York, and by his own admission “had no social skills — too scared to go to a deli on campus, too scared to even leave my room, basically.” That changed when, as a sophomore at the prestigious Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire in 2004, he was persuaded to do a standup impersonation of George W. Bush.
“I don’t know why I accepted, but I got up there and did my George Bush impersonation,” Hayward recalls. “A month later, at a parent-teacher conference, my math teacher didn’t want to talk with my parents about math, she wanted to talk about this George Bush routine I did. My parents were like, ‘Who are you talking about? Our son doesn’t have the social skills to do this.'”
Hayward had broken out of his shell. But he didn’t want to be someone who just went for laughs. “There are a lot of serious things in life, and I wanted to be substantive,” he says. So he buckled down. It doesn’t get much more substantive than Harvard, from which he graduated in 2011 (with a summer in Oxford in 2009 for good measure), or a job as an analyst with Morgan Stanley, where he worked until joining Booker’s Senate campaign in 2013. The next year, he entered Stanford. Substantive and then some.
All along, Hayward has embraced comedy, but the comedy must be “motivational,” uplifting, inspirational. At the moment, given his surroundings, his fellow students are naturally the chief recipients of the message. “I want it to have a point,” he says. “For example, you fight your way into one of these schools, and you should be happy, and you are — and then suddenly you’re not happy anymore. Why is this? If you can’t be happy now, the grades are representing more than they should. So we’ve got to shake this up — meaning you still try to do as best you can, but you have a sense of humor about the system.”
Stanford is diverse — I’ve never been in an environment with as diverse a set of experiences as I see here. You hear the words like “gender diversity,” “racial diversity,” etc., but there are other types. There are people who are dealing with different types of physical challenges, different types of family situations, different types of international situations, and you begin to learn that through going to class with them. For me, the most important thing about the business school by far are the people — who you meet here. Someone who has a totally different religion, or someone who has a totally different economic perspective. Maybe it’s someone who has grown up with a life goal of competing in the Olympics and nothing else. And you learn that it’s not just about the people who are here but the people they represent from elsewhere. You learn that “This person is from a different experience than I’m from, and what can I know more about that experience?”
There are so many different vantage points that intersect, and that’s where the cool thing is, and that’s what blew me away about Stanford — how varied the backgrounds are.
When I grew up we didn’t have a ton of money in my household, so I didn’t travel a lot and see as many things. Something I learned to value higher than almost any other trait is kindness. It’s hard to find sometimes — and here, people are very kind. They have different perspectives, and they seem to not be too competitive with one another, which is a big thing for me.