Updated: May 13
By Molly Leahy
Mr. Dong, a washed up high school teacher, wants desperately to be “in” with his students. When an offer to share his “Walking Dead disc set” doesn’t land, he turns to the next most viable option: finding and doing cocaine. After more hilarity unfolds, Mr. Dong—played by Naomi Rubin, BC ’23—steps to the front of ADP’s packed living room and announces emphatically, “Guys, I found the cocaine!”
The audience bursts into laughter. The set ends.
Rubin is the former president of Third Wheel Improv and has been an active member since her freshman year. Shortly after her set at ADP with Third Wheel Improv, I caught up with Rubin one morning at Wu & Nussbaum. Within minutes, I was struck by the immediacy with which she welcomed me into her world. Like a good improv set, she is engaging, vibrant, and animated. I couldn’t believe how well we were hitting it off, but then again, I can’t help but think Rubin is the type of person who could hit it off with anyone.
Like any comic, Rubin loves making people laugh. She believes that laughter is curative—medicinal even. As a child, when her mother was sick with Crohn’s disease, Rubin would often go into her mom’s room to try and make her laugh. “The motor turned on for me very early just because it was something I always wanted to do,” she reflected, “and then I think once it turned on it went turbo mode.”
Around eight or nine, Rubin was switched from theater camp to comedy camp, where she performed her first comedic character: Mrs. Beetleheimer. At the camp show, a young Rubin, dressed in a “very Jewish motherly costume,” walked into the audience to do crowd work. As she shared this story with me, Rubin stepped into the Mrs. Beetleheimer character outside Wu & Nuss. In Beetleheimer’s voice, she recalled saying to an audience member: “Red pants on a white theater seat? Not flattering!”
“I just remember trying to play to the crowd,” she reminisced, “I just had so much fun with it.”
After Beetleheimer, Rubin was all in with comedy. Growing up in West L.A., she sought out any and every opportunity to deepen her craft and, of course, have fun with it. As a kid, she attended comedy and improv camps. In middle school, she braved an improv class as the only girl among a swarm of boys. As a teenager, Rubin performed weekly at Second City Hollywood as a member of their teen improv show, Detention Hall. “That was like getting my Malcolm Gladwell 10,000 hours,” she remarked. “Getting stage time like that consistently was an invaluable opportunity.”
Rubin also lied about her age in order to take classes and see shows at Upright Citizens Brigade. “I would see shows,” she reminisced, “and then it would just make my enthusiasm for improv tenfold.” During one particularly memorable show Rubin saw at UCB, there was an earthquake. “I was looking at these improvisers,” she told me, “and I was like, What are they gonna do?” The scene playing out happened to be a radio show. Staying in character, the improvisers acknowledged the earthquake. Then they checked in with the audience and continued the show. “I just loved that.” Rubin smiled. “Make sure there’s still trust, and then you just keep going, you improvise through an earthquake … I was in the audience with the biggest, widest eyes, biggest grin. I just tried to soak it all in.”
On her own, Rubin is an unquestionably talented improviser and comedian—but on stage with Third Wheel, she becomes a force to be reckoned with.
The connection between members of Third Wheel is palpable on and off the improv stage. Walking with Rubin around campus, we ran into three other Wheels, all of whom she enveloped in a massive post-spring break hug. “Third Wheel has been one of the best things to happen to me in my life,” she exclaimed. When I later asked her what accomplishments she’s most proud of, she answered, “I’m proud of the people.”
There’s a concept in improv known as “group mind,” when improvisers become so connected that they know, intuitively, where a scene is going and what will happen next. “That’s happened in Third Wheel more and more this year,” Rubin told me. “It makes our shows so much fun because we can be out there doing a scene and we all have this little glint in our eye.”
Although improv is Rubin’s passion, her comedic talents extend well beyond: she’s also a writer, stand-up, and actor. Rubin has contributed to The Sweaty Penguin, a website and comedy podcast about climate change, and Broadway Beat, an online outlet for satirical broadway news. In 2020, she wrote a Seinfeld screenplay, “The Pandemic Episode,” which she later filmed and starred in.
On Rubin’s Twitter, you can find short videos that feature her doing characters, spoofing trends, or pretending to have a roommate auditioning for the Blue Man Group (a video which was retweeted, much to Rubin’s excitement, by the group’s official account). Rubin has also performed original musical comedy at venues across the city like Stand Up NY and Asylum NYC. And this year, she started as a production intern on “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.”
In September, Rubin debuted a web series that she wrote and starred in called “Subletters.” The six-part mockumentary follows Rubin and three new roommates, played by her friends, as they adjust to living together. “As I was writing it, I was having so much fun developing the characters over a series of episodes,” she explained. “Suddenly it was like something clicked for me, like ‘Oh, this is the kind of writing that I’m really connected to.’”
I asked Rubin at the end of our last conversation about what she wants to be doing in five to ten years. “I hope I will have tried a lot of things,” she answered. Her list includes joining the SNL cast, touring longform improv, writing a TV show, and acting in a comedy role for film or theater. “I hope that, whatever I am doing, , am happy doing it … And I think I will primarily be happy if I’m working in anything tangentially related to comedy,” she concluded.
When Rubin is performing, you can tell that she’s been doing this a long time—10,000 hours even. But perhaps more importantly: you can tell that she loves what she’s doing. Talking to Rubin about her relationship to improv was a joy.
Rubin explained that the line between improv and life was blurred early on. “It really shaped how I approached my outside life,” she expressed. Improv teaches people to support one another, to listen, to say yes to everyone’s ideas, and always, to have fun. “Nothing’s too serious,” the comedian reflected. “You don’t have to prepare as much for, you know, life.”
It’s no wonder why Naomi Rubin feels so strongly about improv and Third Wheel: she’s found a world that is as utopic as it is fun.