Connecticut College Magazine · Spring 2011


On the cover: Writer/producer Lee Eisenberg '99 entertainS a packed evans hall in the first of a series of centennial "Conversations with alumni" in January. Photo by Bob Macdonnell

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A Comedy of Riches

A Comedy of Riches
Craig Rowin '06. Photo by Geordie Wood.

Lives: Comedian Craig Rowin '06

By Chase Hoffberger '07

On the morning of Jan. 19, the phone calls started rolling in. Craig Rowin '06, a Brooklyn-based comedian who writes for such outlets as the Upright Citizens Brigade, Comedy Central and The Onion, had just broadcast online that he was about to become the unlikely recipient of $1 million. There was no catch, he said; the money would be given to him Feb. 2 by a mystery man identified only as “Benjamin.”

The video was the triumphant conclusion to a massively successful, and ultimately fictional, Web series Rowin had launched to a swell of Internet buzz last fall.

It all started on Nov. 21 when Rowin, who started writing, directing and publishing sketches and videos while he was a film studies major at Connecticut College, posted online a short video titled “Please Give Me One Million Dollars.”

The premise was simple: there are a whole lot of millionaires out there with a whole lot of millions, and Rowin wanted just one of those millions. As he explained in the series' first installment: “I don't need it for anything specific, but I think it would be awesome. What am I gonna do with the money? I haven't thought that through yet. I might, at the very least, go on a trip to start.”

That video immediately went viral, picking up more than 100,000 views. The Wall Street Journal and New York Magazine's websites picked it up; Rowin was featured on News 42's “Wake Up, Alabama!”

“The first one had gotten some good attention, so I decided to make another as a follow-up for the fun of it, for the comedy of it,” the former leader of The Scuds improv comedy group says. “I knew that there was no way I could (get $1 million), but I wanted to wrap up the Web series the right way and not have it fade into obscurity.”

The final episode — “Please Give Me One Million Dollars — Success!” — went online Jan. 19. Rowin donned a tuxedo and announced that the mysterious “Benjamin” would give him $1 million at UCB Theatre in New York City at a Feb. 2 show — which sold out in less than three hours.

Reporters from as far away as Greece, Japan, Australia and Ireland came calling. A German news team reported live from outside UCB Theatre at show time. “I knew people would respond to it,” Rowin recalls, laughing. “But I did not ever think it would be international news.”

On Feb. 2, the jig was up. When Benjamin — an actor who had auditioned for the role of “fake millionaire” — handed over the check, Rowin hugged him, delivered a short speech, and then, to laughter, applause and a few cries of astonishment from the audience, set the check ablaze.

The media attention and 500,000 YouTube views aren't what Rowin considers the greatest accomplishment of his frenzied, two-month run. Rather, it was the way the comedy world — a tight-knit group Rowin has been a part of since moving to Brooklyn after graduation — supported him through the endeavor.

“Nobody has come up to me and shook my hand and said, 'Come to Hollywood and join the club,'” he says. “But among the comedy community, I've never received a better response. Any time I run into someone I really respect, they've all just said how much they enjoyed it and how funny they thought it was.”

The series resonated on campus, where David Kelley '11, who runs the comedy group N2O, watched each episode and saw the finale online. “He was great,” the film studies major says of Rowin, who returned to campus last semester to lead a workshop with students interested in improv comedy. “He just went for it with nothing to lose, and he did a great job. It was actually acted so well that he had me completely fooled for a while.”

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