CBS Follies: Bad Food, Email Overload & Lots Of S&M

What is this year’s best parody from the CBS Follies? “Cold Call Nightmare” may have the most popular appeal

Some advice for the next dean of Columbia Business School: You’d better be able to take a joke.

Heaven knows, you’re going to be the butt of plenty of CBS Follies skits.

Glenn Hubbard, the school’s outgoing dean, has certainly been a good sport over the years. In White House Dream, you’ll find Dean Hubbard lamenting days lost to meetings and nights devoted to fund-raising. His response? Groveling for a job – any job – in the Mitt Romney administration, where he dreams of slashing budgets and watering down regulations. This spring, his Slim Shady acolytes riffed on him in The Real Glenn Hubbard, taking veiled shots on everything from Hubbard finishing second for the Fed Chair job to his crusade to turn CBS’ ranking “from a nine into a six.”

THE OUTGOING DEAN GOES JOB HUNTING

Portrayed as a man as out of touch as he is ambitious, Hubbard seemingly takes the CBS Follies in stride. A rarity – seeing an actual Republican in New York is as common as witnessing a snow leopard in the Himalayas – Hubbard is hardly the man who’ll don a MAGA hat and tweet storm about how unfair students can be. That includes this year, where his Uris urchins strike close to home in their “Dean For Hire” skit.

In a send-off that’d strike fear into any job hunter, Hubby – Hubbard’s nickname – decides to transition into a career in ‘fin-nance.” A modern day Cyrano de Bergerac, he lures a student with flex dollars to play him in a job search. That’s when everything goes awry. The ‘dean’ delivers his elevator pitch by reading off his Wikipedia page. Warren Buffet hangs up on him when he calls for career advice. To add insult to injury, he can’t even land a first round interview with Bain & Company. Turns out, Dean Hubbard isn’t all that marketable…except as a Columbia Business School professor, of course. The reason is all too heartbreaking.

“It seems the Follies really damaged your reputation,” explains his stand-in.

A CHANCE TO MAKE A STATEMENT…AND EVEN SCORES

The CBS Follies have long been a net gain for the business school. A student-run comedy troupe, CBS Follies holds variety shows before the end of fall and spring semesters. Thanks to the digital age, the club has moved their skits and dance routines to their YouTube channel, which now houses nearly 400 videos stretching back to 2009. While not slick and cash-flush by Hollywood standards, these sketches are good for dozens of laughs. For students and alumni, they’re filled with inside jokes galore.

Lasting four to eight minutes on average, you could say the follies are about sparking conversations. Take the infamous Bitch in Business, a feminist call to arms featuring bottle-popping heroines enjoying the good life as their pleather-totting boy-toys wash their cars and vacuum their floors. Turns out, it became a cross-over hit, generating 3.3 million page views…and counting. Follies skits also lampoon, with anthropological precision, the issues that students wrestle with every day. These include classics like MBA (Married But Available), which spoofs the temptations inherent to rugby players and operations professors. If you can’t snag an MBA degree, there is always an MRS.  A dance riff on Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies,” the parody brings a critical point to life: Marry a rich banker who can buy you s**t or be relegated to a life of dive bars, Häagen-Dazs, and cats.

Alas, the CBS Follies are also about evening scores. Traditionally, the biggest target for their jabs has been Uris Hall, a humorless cement husk that could seemingly double for a high school in a John Hughes movie. Not a year goes by, it seems, without the Follies poking fun at their rankings-obsessed administrators, whose devotion to breaking into the Top Five may stem more from a nascent Napoleon Complex than a healthy competitive drive. In other words, the skits offer an intimate, inside glimpse at life inside Columbia Business School, warts and all. For MBA applicants, there must be something very special about a program that isn’t afraid to air its dirty laundry for all to see.

TOO COOL FOR CLASS

What is this year’s best parody? That’s hard to say, though “Cold Call Nightmare” may have the most popular appeal. Dredged up from their parents’ (or grandparents’) cassette tapes, the skit accomplishes the near impossible: making Madonna relevant again. Sung to “Like a Prayer,” the song is a homage to MBA students everywhere who are terrified of public speaking – or are too busy drinking beer towers at rugby happy hour to read their cases.

The secret to this video? Well, the choreography could use some polishing. The lyrics, however, shine like no other. Just look at the opening:

“Class is a mystery,
Didn’t read last night’s case.
Professor calls my name,
And my brain just froze.”

Yes, the song is about the complex dynamic between adult MBA candidates and faculty. The former believe they are on the fast track to millions. The latter? Well, they have to babysit their occasionally puerile patrons while racing to meet their “publish or perish” tenure requirements. Sure enough, the lyrics feature plenty of digs on their differing stations in life.

“Professor judging me,
But I make more money.”

“When I’m a billionaire,
I might donate to your bus fare.”

And then there’s the ultimate insult:

“My hand’s not in the air,
So shove your question you know where.”

So much for the myth that b-school faculty are pampered and overpaid, huh?

“YOUR ABUSE GIVES ME PLEASURE”

Think MBAs are gluttons for punishment? Meet the students who produced “Spreadsheets & Meetings,” a take on Rihanna’s “S&M.” Sure enough, the whips-and-chains theme of the original is ever present in this roast. Here, students long to be cuffed-to-their laptops submissives in a consulting firm. In this world, they are titillated by (ahem) large decks and assets. As consultants, they place their lives on hold for late night calls, 110% travel (“different city, every week”), missed meals, and abusive bosses… all to get staffed for a project serving Kim Jong Un.

“Honestly, I’ve always wanted to not sleep,” jokes one student.

A toxic life, no doubt, but the skit is also a tongue-in-cheek warning against the “I’ll subject myself to anything” and “be at your command” ethos that can be summed up by one character’s declaration:

“F**k work-life balance, got my eye on that pile of cash.”

RIDDING URIS HALL…OF HORCRUXES

Considering the Millennial milieu that is business school, you have to expect at least one Harry Potter parody. Sure enough, CBS Follies delivers with “Harry Potter and the Half-Gone Dean”. Not surprisingly, Glenn Hubbard is back as the perfunctory punching bag. Yes, J.K. Rowling’s gang – Harry, Hermione and a spot-on Ron – engage in a great quest: the search for four pieces of the dean’s soul in Uris Hall.

Off the bat, the premise jumps the shark– business school deans have no souls. However, the students commit to their roles and race across the building to rid each horcrux. They find them in the library (a place where the internet has replaced books…even if the router rarely works); Lehman Lounge (where the free coffee is “only slightly subpar”); EMBA catering (which is never shared with full-time MBAs); and “The Curl” (just for being “hideous,” I guess). However, the parody leaves room for a sequel, as the trio discover there is actually a fifth horcrux – Uris Hall – a legacy that may outlive them since they predict it may take “forever” to finish the new building.

Stay tuned…