Matchmaking, prank calls and a surprise pit with “The Office” comedian


A typical comedy show turned into an impromptu concert when audience members left their seats to crowd the space between their chairs and the stage at Student Involvement’s Fall Comedy Headliner. The show, which took place at the Mason Pond Lawn on Friday, Sept. 10, starred “The Office” actor and comedian Craig Robinson, whose high-energy set brought more than just stand-up.

Audience participation was at the forefront from the start, with host Gary Hannan leaning into the (then seated) crowd, asking them questions about their love lives. Hannan took his turn at playing matchmaker with audience members Alex and Dania. 

The two single showgoers were paired together in front of the crowd and prompted to sit together for the remainder of the show, something Hannan hoped to be the catalyst to a blossoming new relationship.

Comedian Ralph Roberts followed with a brief opening set, making jokes about love and relationships, before ceding the stage to Robinson.

Robinson, best known for his role as Darryl Philban on “The Office” has played a wide range of roles, including in the movies “Knocked Up” and “Hot Tub Time Machine,” as well as his own sitcom “Mr. Robinson.”  

“We were really wanting to make sure that we were thinking about the diversity of our campus, what our student population is interested in and we did a lot of research on who is out there, who has been to other schools, who is selling out shows, who is doing so well … and Craig Robinson really just fit the bill for us,” said Lauren Long, director of Student Involvement. 

According to Long,1,800 tickets were available for the fall comedy headliner, and 1,500 had been sold prior to the event. She believed the remaining 300 would be sold before Robinson took the stage. 

“The first few weeks of school, people were at everything to the point where we would have maybe half the people who would register and then we would get to the day of the event and we would have double that number,” Long said. “We’re just so excited to have everybody back, and I think the students are as well.” 

Rather than standing at a microphone, Robinson did his show from behind an electric keyboard, playing iconic songs ranging from Wagner’s bridal march to Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” – and everything in between – often putting his own spin on the lyrics.

The audience involvement continued when Robinson suggested that the crowd prank call Virginia Commonwealth University. Audience member Julia hopped on stage and called her friend Brian, a student at VCU, giving Robinson a chance to shock the unsuspecting student.

The show really shifted when Robinson suggested that they make a “mosh pit” in the space in front of the stage. Immediately, students left their seats to crowd in front of the stage, cheering and swaying iPhone cameras like lighters at a concert.

“I was definitely up front, I was ready to go for that,” said audience member Nicole Bonev, a sophomore Computer Game Design student. “I thought we would just be sitting down, laughing, and that’s about it, but it turned into a concert real quick.” 

Robinson played his keyboard and sang, inviting the crowd to sing along or even to take the microphone and make the show their own for a moment. While the show had been musical from the jump, this shift in seating arrangement transformed it from a comedy show to a concert.