Last spring, a team of Haas MBA humorists decided to have a little fun at the expense of the school they love so well. The result was the Haas Observer, funded by $5 contributions by fellow students to a Tilt campaign.
We spoke with co-founders Susan Lee, Davis Jones, and Jonathan Prowse, all MBA 16, to gain insight into the minds behind the madness.
Why did you start the Haas Observer?
Jon: Susan and I were sitting around drinking coffee and talking about our favorite Onion headlines. Then we started to think of all the ways we could make fun of the little quirks that make Haas a place we all love. SYNERGY.
Susan: Just to clarify, when Jon says "sitting around drinking coffee" he really means "making side comments in the middle of Strategy class." Everyone here has their own student commitments, friends, even life outside Haas. I see the Haas Observer as a fun way to bring us all together, because as Haasies, we're the only ones in on the joke. We'll all walk away from Haas with a variety of experiences, but every one of us will remember the first time they were terrified by that giant Mac 'n Cheese photo in the Bank of America hallway. And that's kind of beautiful, you know?
Davis: Susan had asked me to join after she and Jon came up with the idea. I was an editor for my undergrad school paper, and my favorite issue each year was always our Onion-style issue, so I was excited to work on something similar at Haas. A self-published paper like this provides a good outlet for humor, self-reflection, and maybe a little bit of humility in our self-mockery, which is good for all of us.
Since you’re Haas students, we know you've had great starts to your careers and you aced the GMAT, but what qualifies you for this endeavor?
Susan: I briefly ran a comic strip in my college newspaper. Once I realized it took me 30 seconds to write the joke and seven hours to draw the cartoon, I decided I should stick to words.
Jon: I've always thought I was hilarious.... But no, I have a great appreciation for comedy and I'm a big fan of The Onion. I've always secretly wanted to go into comedy, but instead, I went to business school.
Davis: Yep, I have tons of background and experience, which I think is really what helped make me a leader/mentor figure on this team.
What kind of reaction have you gotten from fellow students & the school administration?
Jon: We've had a super-warm reception from students. We were very careful to be funny and poke fun but try to celebrate the unique place this is, and we hope that came through.
Susan: It's been a trip to hear people reference the jokes and have it all be in good fun. As far as administration, we heard Asst. Dean Stephanie Fujii was going to pick up a copy, and—now that it's too late to reject us—we're thrilled to hear it. No word from Dean Lyons or a response statement on the contents of The Folder.
Where do you find material?
Susan: After a year's worth of Haas experiences, frankly, we were teeming with material. Just thinking back to the daily absurdities, the class Facebook group threads, that 'Cool, Hip, Unique Gear' sign at the Haas store we walk past every single day—these are things every Haas student knows are ridiculous in the back of their heads. We just had to bring that to front of mind. We reached out to a bunch of friends and started a Google Doc of potential headlines, of which probably 10% made it into print, so we've got plenty more to go around next year.
How do you walk the line between good-natured humor and ridicule?
Jon: It's a bit of a balancing act. Humor is not universal either, so we had to be cognizant that not everyone would find this style of humor funny. These conversations sometimes took longer than the actual writing itself. Regardless, we put a disclaimer in the back so no one can sue us, right?
Susan: It was really important to me that this be seen as a funny way to celebrate Haas—not ridicule it. My general rule was "don't make fun of anyone who doesn't make fun of him/herself." By that standard, we were a little rough on Cheit Hall.
What's next for the Haas Observer?
Susan: We plan to reach out to advertisers so we can distribute the Haas Observer for free next year, so I’d like to use this interview to make Davis publicly accountable for managing the money.
Davis: I plan to make a lot of money from future publications. Since Susan and Jon are both financially illiterate, I shouldn't have a hard time paying myself a generous salary for my role in this.
Jon: Back-to-school special? It would be great to make this a multi-generational project by bringing in some fresh blood from the new class. I'd also like to fire Davis, which might be tricky since apparently he controls the purse strings now.