A Law Professor Switches to Stand-Up Comedy

The Four Percent


“It wasn’t like I was Doogie Howser,” Liz Glazer said of her precocious success, but she wasn’t far off. She picked up a master’s degree in philosophy during her four years as an undergraduate, then shot through law school and landed a job at a Wall Street firm before becoming a full-time law professor at age 27. And then, shortly after attaining hard-won tenure, she quit to pursue a life in stand-up comedy.

Ms. Glazer’s “success-mindedness” was instilled in her by her family. She grew up in New Jersey, where she was one of the few conservative Jews attending an Orthodox day school. She was far from a class clown. All four of her grandparents were Holocaust survivors, and her mother had been born in a displaced-persons camp. “My parents inherited their parents’ trauma to the tune of thinking the Nazis would come to our house if I didn’t go to law school,” she said.

At the University of Pennsylvania, she studied philosophy, writing her master’s thesis on Kantian aesthetics. Ms. Glazer’s mentor, Heidi Hurd, who taught both philosophy and law, gave her a piece of advice: Become a law professor. “The jobs are relatively easier to get than philosophy professorships, and you can teach law and write about philosophy,” Ms. Glazer said.

She enrolled in law school at the University of Chicago, where there was one thing she was driven to achieve: publish a paper in the Law Review. Her article on “a very obscure issue in appropriations law” would pay off more than she could foresee.

A 2019 performance in New York’s Greenwich Village



Photo:

Stewie Vill

The year after law school, when she was working as a first year associate at Fried Frank in Manhattan, Ms. Glazer received a letter from the Hofstra University School of Law in Hempstead, N.Y. Would she like to interview for a professorship? “They were looking for nontraditional candidates,” she said, including those who had published their own papers while in law school.

Around the time of receiving the letter, she showed up to work after pulling an all-nighter and ran into a partner by the elevator bank. “This guy was known for loving the job so much that he literally skipped to work,” Ms. Glazer said. He asked if she was having fun on the job. “I remember thinking, ‘He had a crush on our job, and he couldn’t not talk about it the way you talk about somebody you have a crush on,’ ” Ms. Glazer said. “I was like, ‘Maybe this is fine, but it isn’t fun.’ ”

Ms. Glazer joined Hofstra by the following year and came to be known as one of the school’s more entertaining professors. “One of my colleagues said, ‘Whenever I walk by your classroom, laughter is spilling out,’ and I remember thinking, ‘I hope the school doesn’t think that’s a bad thing.’ ” Four years into teaching, in 2009, while on a visiting professorship at Loyola University Chicago, she enrolled in an improv comedy class, a move she likened to signing up for a tennis lesson. “I wanted to do something that was not connected to a goal,” she said.

Three years later, back in Chicago for a visiting professorship at Northwestern University, she met up with her former improv instructor, who invited Ms. Glazer to perform with her at a coming improv and stand-up event. “I had consumed a lot of espresso, which she mistook for stage presence,” Ms. Glazer said. She was reluctant at first, but she said yes.

On the night of the show, Ms. Glazer showed up at the club with reams of material that she had prepared, as well as a large box that had arrived addressed to her from Amazon and whose contents were unknown to her. On stage, Ms. Glazer abandoned the set that she had written and opened the box in front of the audience, ad-libbing the whole time. “I had no idea what was in there so I’d have to react on the spot,” she said.

In front of the crowd, she took out 18 vinyl suit covers. Her mother had sent them to protect Ms. Glazer’s work suits from getting covered in the hair of her cat, Mona. The crowd was receptive, and there was no going back. “I remember thinking: ‘This is my new life,’ ” Ms. Glazer said.

Less than a year after her stand-up debut, the dean of Hofstra’s law school called to let her know that it was offering buyout packages to tenured professors. She committed to one on the spot.

One of the first things she did after shedding her professorship was write and perform “A One-Woman Wedding,” in which she mourned a broken engagement and staged marrying herself. She also threw herself into performing at open mic nights throughout New York City.

Five and a half years (and one actual wedding to a rabbi) later, Ms. Glazer’s comedy career is on the rise. A big moment came last December, when Ms. Glazer came in first place at the Boston Comedy Festival. “I had gotten rejected from the festival the year before,” she said.

Liz Glazer, in suit, married Rabbi Karen Perolman in August 2020.



Photo:

Kristine Foley

Inspired by other comedians she admires who also studied acting, she enrolled in an acting workshop, and she signed with an agent in 2018. She has been auditioning for commercial and acting gigs and appeared on the ABC drama “For Life” as “Reporter #2.”

The money is nowhere near what it used to be, but she is able to cover her share of the household expenses. A day rate for a TV show is $1,133, plus $250 compensation to get Covid tests. All of her comedy gigs are currently on Zoom, and she has been performing for a great deal of synagogues and law schools that hire her to cheer up socially distanced students. Her fees are around $1,000 for synagogue engagements and around $1,500 for law school appearances, though she adjusts her rate depending on the institution’s financial health. “It all adds up,” she said.

Ms. Glazer is still on good terms with her former colleagues at Fried Frank and she still attends their holiday party. At the last one, she ran into the enthusiastic partner who had asked her if she was having fun as a corporate lawyer. “I told him that moment was special to me,” she said. “You showed me that it’s possible to feel that way about a job, and you changed my life.”

Career Update

Name: Liz Glazer

Age: 41

Location: South Orange, N.J.

Former job: Associate professor, Hofstra University School of Law

Current job: Stand-up comedian

Education: Bachelor’s and master’s degrees in philosophy at University of Pennsylvania; law degree at the University of Chicago Law School

Most important piece of advice for changing jobs: If your colleagues are having a blast and you’re not, you should meditate on it. You can put that data to use when you figure out the next chapter, which doesn’t have to be tomorrow.”

A-ha moment: Ms. Glazer had recently made tenure at Hofstra, but when she came off the stage, she was exhilarated in a way she’d never felt before. When the dean of her law school reached out to lay out buyout packages, she selected one on the spot.

Write to Lauren Mechling at laurenomics@gmail.com.

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