In fall 1973, Josh Lazar and Paul Warshauer started kicking around ideas for a new student-produced show to rival the classic Waa-Mu Show, which started in 1929 and has launched the careers of some of the University’s most talented alumni in entertainment. Lazar and Warshauer’s initial idea was to provide a new outlet for creatives who felt boxed in by the existing campus offerings. And The Mee-Ow Show was born.
Lazar ’75 and Warshauer ’76 quickly assembled a cast and crew of about 50 people, plus more than a dozen musicians in the orchestra, all working toward an April 1974 premiere. “Everyone was just so excited,” Warshauer says. “We had comedians, singers, dancers — we even had a graduate student who wanted to do poetry.”
On April 12, 1974, Mee-Ow opened Just in Time, a three-hour variety show with a time travel theme, which ran for three nights. It was the first production in Norris University Center’s McCormick Auditorium, which had been designed as a lecture hall rather than a theater venue. So the Mee-Ow team built an orchestra platform and, Warshauer says, even fronted the cost of rewiring the auditorium for theatrical lighting.
The group is now a well-known fixture in Northwestern’s comedy scene. Warshauer certainly didn’t expect the Mee-Ow tradition to continue. “After the first show, we were convinced that it was too big, too unwieldy,” he says. So they decided to pare things down. “The most important parts were the comedy parts.”
The following year, the show’s leaders, including Eugene “Dusty” Kay ’76 and Bill Nuss ’76, rebranded Mee-Ow as a comedy-focused production, which has remained the core of its identity. Warshauer says the show has evolved “from rebellion to institution.” Mee-Ow’s positive reception and reputation for launching alums into successful comedy careers — including Julia Louis-Dreyfus ’82, ’07 H, Ana Gasteyer ’89 and Seth Meyers ’96, ’16 H — have made it a respected institution on campus.
With the show’s upcoming 50th anniversary, Warshauer called on Mee-Ow alums from all five decades to document and celebrate the group’s history for a spring 2024 reunion and retrospective book. He tapped former Mee-Ow “surrealist-in-residence” Joe Radding ’75 to co-author the retrospective, which will be published by Northwestern University Press in fall 2024. The two crowdsourced a wealth of information and ephemera from past Mee-Ow productions and conducted more than 90 interviews with alums from every year of the show.
“Most say that Mee-Ow was a defining moment for them,” Warshauer says. “They learned how to write. They learned how to be organized. They learned that they could be creative with a group of like-minded people in a very constructive and positive way. They learned not to be ashamed of coming up with goofy stuff.”
Warshauer is planning 50th anniversary reunion events in spring 2024, including panel discussions, presentations on Mee-Ow’s history and a two-act comedy show that will be performed by Mee-Ow alums and produced by Jason Winer ’94. Northwestern University Archives is also planning a Mee-Ow at 50 exhibit in Deering Library that will showcase script pages, programs and merchandise collected over the years. It will be on display throughout the fall quarter.
Warshauer says the process of putting together a student-driven show like Mee-Ow gives aspiring comedians the skills and confidence to start their careers, regardless of whether they go into comedy or not.
“I’ve heard nothing but positive things about how this process works,” he says. “When you imagine undergraduates starting with a blank piece of paper and then coming up with a full-length show — written, directed and created by six to 10 people in a creative atmosphere, with no adults involved — that process is astounding to me. These are smart, creative people to begin with, but then you put them all together, and it’s like an explosion.”
Ella Kuffour is an editorial intern for Northwestern Magazine and an undergraduate student at Northwestern, studying journalism and psychology with a minor in dance.