Seriously Funny

Ben Gleib ’00: From campus roots to the stand-up spotlight.

Taped to the door of Ben Gleiberman’s childhood room in 1980s Los Angeles, a length of dot matrix printer paper is scrawled with penciled letters: Ben’s Comedy Club—two drink minimum.

It’s what you might expect from a 10-year-old aspiring comedian. You could call it precocious, but in Gleiberman’s case it’s more like laser focus. While this kind of creative spirit often fades over time, Gleiberman’s never did. Instead he brought it with him to UC San Diego, where it flourished with every opportunity to become the comic, the talk show host, the actor and showrunner he always wanted to be.

“Ben burst into Muir College as an undaunted, fearless first-year student who seemed to know exactly what he wanted to do with his life—make people laugh,” says Patty Mahaffey, then Muir’s coordinator of student activities, who remembers the scrappy freshman well before he became the personality he goes by today, Ben Gleib.

The freshman communications major wasted no time upon coming to campus. Gleib teamed up with fellow Muiron Jeremy Cole ’98 to host The Whatever Live Show, an improvised call-in program broadcast live on Muir TV, then took the lead on creating The Gleib Show, a full-blown talk show in the vein of Gleib’s late-night idols, Johnny Carson and David Letterman. Over his college career Gleib would lead a production team of anywhere from 20 to 80 fellow students, including Tim Flora ’98, Dan Zizmor ’00, Jill Lucks ’00 and Jason Adelman ’99, many of whom earned course credit for “The Gleib Show 198.” As for a final, each season of the show ended with a live broadcast that would eventually become the opener for the Sun God Festival—but it was Gleib’s first show on Muir Quad that would prove the most momentous.

“Muir TV was on the sixth floor of Tioga Hall, so I rented two 100-foot A/V cables and ran them from the broadcast room, out the window, down the side of the building and onto the stage,” he says. “Then it started raining, which could have ruined everything. I literally dropped down on my knee in the corner and said, ‘This is my life’s vision, and if I’m going to have a career in this business, please, please, let the rain stop.’ It did, and I decided I was going to pursue this career for the rest of my life. After that night, I knew I would.”

Gleib of course had three more years of college to get through, which meant three more years on camera. Looking back, The Gleib Show was a chronicle of the ’90s, with parodies of popular movies like Titanic, Swingers and American Beauty, and special guests that included MTV’s Carmen Electra and Saved by the Bell’s “Screech.” And when it came to campus celebrities, Gleib was even able to convince then-Chancellor Bob Dynes to dance the macarena on stage.

Such charisma would land Gleib a top Hollywood talent manager come graduation, after which he headed to L.A. and hit the ground running. Over the years his stand-up routine got him listed as “one of comedy’s next big things” by Esquire; he was tapped to host Idiotest on the Game Show Network and also served as head writer and executive producer. He became a fixture on the roundtable talk show Chelsea Lately, and a regular commentator on CNN, discussing anything from pop culture to politics.

“Comedy has always been a great source of truth,” Gleib says. “It’s very important to me to give people something to think about and make them question their beliefs. That’s really what UCSD’s communications department taught me—the theoretical focus helped me shape the way I saw the world, and look at things through a different lens.”

Between theory in the classroom to the practical education he gave himself, Gleib today stands ready with something to say and the initiative to find a way to say it. And while his commentary may be unpopular to some—a target for heckling or sometimes worse—it has produced a marked shift in the projects he pursues. For instance, Gleib’s podcast “Last Week on Earth” is his own weekly spin on current events, and he moderates the live show “We the People” at the Hollywood Improv, bringing together voices from the right and left for lively discussion. But when he decided to do more than just tweet his support for getting out the vote, he ended up with a much larger project.

Five weeks before the latest midterm election, Gleib had a notion to create and host a non-partisan Telethon for America, the first telethon designed not to raise money, but rather to get people to pledge to vote and bring friends out to the polls. In less than a month, Gleib signed actress Olivia Munn to co-host, partnered with the nonprofit “When We All Vote” and filled the phone bank with celebrities like Natalie Portman, Jane Fonda, Justin Theroux and Charlize Theron. Gleib felt the telethon played a small part in what proved to be the biggest midterm voter turnout in 50 years.

“It was cool to put the exact skills I gained from UCSD to use almost two decades later,” says Gleib. “I hadn’t put together a production like that since college. It felt really good to do it again, with an even bigger impact.”