These are serious times. Graduate business education is a serious undertaking. But it’s a good thing, now and then, to be a little less serious, and that’s the power and the value of CBS Follies, a student-run comedy club at the Columbia Business School.
CBS Follies helps MBA students take themselves less seriously amid their very serious studies, often — don’t clutch your pearls — in bawdy and risqué ways, but always designed to entertain the CBS community. On the last day of every semester, the club puts on a variety show that is a mix of recorded and live performances that parody life at the school. The videos are published on the Follies’ YouTube channel, which as of this week has nearly 6,000 followers and 3.39 million views.
The club published 10 new episodes in early January 2022.
“Most people assume business school is a place where they’re going to understand corporate finance, economics, and strategy rather than find a group of people who are willing to throw their dignity out the window,” jokes Madison Kaminski, Follies co-president.
MEET THE 100-PERSON PRODUCTION TEAM
This year, the club sold 700 tickets to the variety show, which included a mix of the recorded videos, live skits, band performances, and choreographed dances. “The Follies live show is basically SNL, but heavy on the digital shorts,” says Kaminski.
The club – which is comprised of CBS Follies, Follies Dance, and their cover band, Juranimal – is a production team that exceeds 100 people. While a few episodes missed the mark, others felt relatable to not only CBS MBA students, but MBA students at large, such as Call Me MBA, Costs a Whole Lotta Money, and Horny Consequences. “CBS Follies has evolved a lot,” says Kaminski. “It used to be inside humor specifically about CBS, but a goal of ours this year was to zoom out on the MBA experience and make it more relatable to more people.”
The episodes that have worked best focus on a few themes: CBS’ party culture, overpriced tuition, and regrettable one-night stands after being pent up from Covid-19 isolation. Poets&Quants talked with Follies co-presidents Kaminski and Mo Kamaly for a deeper look into the club’s creative process and the inspiration behind the parodies.
PARTY CULTURE: ‘CALL ME MBA’
Call Me MBA, a parody of Montero by Lil Nas X, makes fun of the party culture and lifestyle of a CBS MBA. Its re-written lyrics speak to happy hours, “married but available” MBAs, frequent jet setting, and arriving at CBS only to find out that the main bonding activity amongst students is drinking. As one of the parody’s lines so eloquently describes MBA students, “Think they care about school? You can think again.” And later, “Champagne and clubbing with their friends, all these people do is drink, I cannot pretend.”
Poets&Quants even made an appearance: In one scene, a character is reading a P&Q article titled Columbia Disciplines 70 MBA Students for Covid Violations alongside the lyrics, “Our brand is taking hits, reputation looks bleak,” which references a laissez-faire drinking culture at the school. But perhaps the most memorable scene in this parody was that of one of the characters doing the splits on a New York City subway, using the handrail as a “stripper pole.”
“When Lil Nas X came out with the stripper pole shot in the Call Me By Your Name music video, we immediately wanted to use the song and recreate the scene,” Kaminski says.
The video draws heavily on a circus aesthetic. With colourful outfits, face paint, and a lot of dancing, Kaminski says that this theme references what the students’ friends outside of the program think of business school. “Our friends think we have a wild circus lifestyle when compared to a nine to five job,” she says.
OVERPRICED TUITION: ‘COSTS A WHOLE LOTTA MONEY’
Showcasing the life of a broke MBA student, the Costs A Whole Lotta Money parody starts out on a Zoom call between prospective students and a Columbia MBA admissions ambassador. The ambassador introduces herself and then asks one of the current students what sets Columbia apart from other business schools. “Is it the culture?” she asks. “Is it being in New York? What sets CBS apart as a school?”
The video then goes to a scene with three characters. As if to answer the ambassador’s question, the characters sing, “It costs a whole lotta money for this motherfu****.”
“This song was inspired by the high costs of business school,” Kamaly says. “Not only is tuition really expensive, but once you get here, you’re constantly being invited to trips, dinners, and drinks and it adds up.”
A few more lines that speak to the broke student life include, “CBS is here, shut up let’s cheers, well it’s only water but I sold a kidney so next round I’ll get beers.” And later, “Can’t keep ordering that door dash, meal prep is tough though… I just might sell my soul to pay off my loans.” Creatively-written, acted, and produced, most MBA students – regardless of school – can relate to this video. Plus, it makes student debt feel a little lighter, even for just a few moments.
REGRETTABLE ONE-NIGHT-STANDS: ‘HORNY CONSEQUENCES’
While the profanity is extreme in this episode, most MBA students will get a laugh from Horny Consequences, a parody of Lizzo’s Truth Hurts.
This video features MBA students who’ve received their covid-19 booster shot and are, in the actor’s words, “Ready to get laid.” It talks about the aftermath of regrettable one-night-stands and “Bad decisions [that] make [them] look like a fool.”
“The inspiration behind Horny Consequences was the idea that now that we’re back in person, everyone’s ready to let loose since being isolated and pent up,” says Madison. “But, because business school is a much smaller world than you think, there are consequences to your actions.”
These consequences are shown as having to work with someone in a project after a one night stand – as one line puts it, “Why men look great late night on a Wednesday, didn’t know I had case prep with him next day,” – being overly-confident with flirting in a Zoom chat, and realizing that a potential date just wanted to network with an MBA.
Learn more about the Follies creative process on page 2.