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Emerson remembers student Griffin O’Brien

Emerson senior Griffin “Griff” O’Brien died unexpectedly on July 11, 2012. He was 22. A Writing for Film and TV major from Winnetka, Illinois, O’Brien was a talented comedian involved in many activities and several student organizations on campus.

Most recently, O’Brien was nominated as MVP of the TBS Rooftop Comedy National College Comedy Competition as a member of the winning Emerson College team. O’Brien was also a three-year member and head writer of Jimmy’s Traveling All Stars, a sketch comedy troupe at Emerson. He spent a semester at Emerson’s Kasteel Well program, and planned to attend Emerson College Los Angeles in the fall.

Griffin O'Brien (right) is pictured at the TBS National Comedy Competion with his Emerson teammates. Photo by Megan McLoughlin, Berkeley Beacon.

Outside of Emerson, O’Brien interned at The Colbert Report television show and was a longtime student and participant with Second City in Chicago. He also recently worked with ImprovBoston. He graduated from New Trier East High School in Winnetka in 2009.

A celebration of O’Brien’s life will take place Friday, July 20, from 6:00 to 10:00 pm at Marcello’s Restaurant, 1911 Cherry Lane, Northbrook, Illinois. An Emerson memorial service will be organized on campus at the beginning of the fall term by Dean of Students Ron Ludman. Counseling Center staff are available to assist students and can be reached at 617-824-8595.

In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be sent to the Griffin O’Brien Scholarship, Emerson College Office of Development, 120 Boylston Street, Boston, MA 02116. Online condolences may be posted at

Emerson Remembrances

Visual and Media Arts Associate Professor Martie Cook, who taught O’Brien in Comedy Writing for Television, said, “Jokes seemed to roll effortlessly off Griff’s tongue. But he worked hard to embrace his talent and perfect his art. He’d write draft after draft of a script, and just when you thought it couldn’t get any better or any funnier, it did. Every student in the class benefited from Griff’s rare and enormous talent. When giving notes to other writers, Griff was extremely honest and generous; he put as much thought and effort into improving their work as he did his own.”

Visual and Media Arts Assistant Professor Hassan Ildari said, “Cautious as I am about superlatives, I think ‘brilliant’ must easily apply to Griff as both a student of comedy writing and as a young comedy writer. His death is a painful blow hardly bearable or acceptable.”

One of O’Brien’s closest friends, Roger Ouellette, said that “when someone passes away tragically, there always seems to be a natural tendency to raise them up as if they were some sort of flawless super human; but honestly, if there were a person to ever exist who was flawless, it was Griff, and I mean that in the most sincere way. He had a flawless sense of humor and a flawless genuine personality. There's been so much talk over these past few days about just how brilliantly funny Griff was, and I consider even that to be a bit of an understatement. With all that Griff had to face in his life, both physically and emotionally, he had the right to be a less-than-jovial personality, but that wasn’t Griff. He just wanted to have a good time. He didn’t want anyone to worry about him; he just wanted to make sure his friends and family were happy.”

Another friend, Andrew Coalson, said, “It’s a rarity to find someone talented in stand-up, improv, and sketch comedy. He wasn’t just good at writing and performing; he was one at the top in each area of comedy. And off the stage, he was a great friend. You could always confide in him and talk about nothing or joke about anything. He found a way to always be honest with people. He was cynical, but in a way that just hid how much he loved and cared about everyone in his life. None of us could have asked for a better friend. I think about how much the world lost last week, but at least Griff lived a jam-packed, awesome life. Griff and I went to the Just for Laughs Festival in Chicago. He repeatedly said it was the best time of his life. I’m glad I got to be there with him. And I’m glad I know that he really got the best out of his twenty-two years on Earth.”

O'Brien's friend Patrick McDonald said, “Griff was a huge part of Jimmy's Traveling All-Stars, the sketch group we were in together. We would pitch our sketches or ideas, and there was always this unspoken pause to see what Griff thought of it. He just had the funniest ideas and all of the best tools to accomplish them. If you made Griff laugh, you felt like the king of the world. Outside of sketch, Griff was also my best friend. He was reliable, honest, and always told you what you needed to hear. If you were with Griff, you were having a blast, even if you were sitting in a common room watching a bad TV show about ghosts. Without Griff, the comedy community at Emerson College will have to work extra hard to find reasons to laugh again.”

Visual and Media Arts Professor Tom Cooper remembered “when I needed someone to help move the class forward, Griff would always come through. Very talented with a comedic touch and quick with good ideas, he could easily make me and others laugh or think afresh depending upon what was appropriate at the time. It was obvious that students also gravitated toward him: friends sat next to him, volunteered with him for team exercises, and enjoyed his company in ways I could detect even 30–40 feet away, at the front of the class.”

Adjunct faculty member in Visual and Media Arts David Kociemba said, “I think the first thing that I noticed about Griff in my Images of the Disabled course is that he took on opportunities for personal growth. He wrote lengthy summaries of the assigned readings that included personal takes on a few of them; a lot of people try to get through those assignments with minimal effort and investment. He was one of the good ones.”


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