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July 11, 2012

Vol. 112, No. 15

A Moment With...

Nikki Muller ’05, creator of ‘The Ivy League Hustle’

By Mark F. Bernstein ’83
Published in the July 11, 2012, issue


Nikki Muller ’05
PHOTO: ­COURTESY NIKKI MULLER ’05
Nikki Muller ’05

Nikki “2k” Muller ’05 hit the zeitgeist when her YouTube video “The Ivy League Hustle” went viral this spring, giving Reunions an unofficial anthem (she gave several performances). The video, which features Samara Bay ’02 and Aliza Pearl ’04 as backup singers, had been viewed more than 250,000 times by Reunions and earned Muller an appearance on “CBS This Morning.” When she is not celebrating Princeton and tweaking pompous male Wharton students, Muller, who earned an M.F.A. from Harvard, makes short films, blogs, writes for the website comediva.com, and juggles odd jobs. Can a self-described ­“writer-comedienne-actress-tutor-triathlete-ukulele player with a whole lot to offer the world” get her big break in Hollywood? Stay tuned.

“Ivy League Hustle” has some R-rated lyrics. What’s behind that? 

I think it’s because I live in L.A., and I’m surrounded by people who will do really terrible things for a laugh. So explicit language, which is prominently featured in a lot of the music that I listen to, doesn’t even faze me. Unfortunately, it becomes clear when I see a clip of myself on TV with something bleeped out and I think, “Oh my gosh, I sound so terrible!”

Is this your biggest breakthrough?

Definitely. I thought everyone at Princeton would get a kick out of it, but the fact that kids from other schools and people with M.F.A.s have been sending it around has gotten it a much broader audience than I had anticipated. Which is what you hope for, but you never know.

Other than the fact that it’s funny, why has “The Ivy League ­Hustle” been so popular?

It’s honest to my life, but I think it appeals to anyone who went to a good school and is having trouble finding a job.

You also have worked as a tutor and a proofreader, among other temporary jobs. Are you a struggling actress? 

You have to make your money somehow. I’ve had snarky comments on my website [www.nikkimuller.com] saying, “What did you expect with an arts degree?” but it’s difficult to survive before you break through in the arts. And it’s really hard to find a good, flexible job that actually pays well enough that you can live, so you can keep your time free to be creative. But the creative part is so important — to not sell out and just go for the salaried job where you’d be comfortable, because then you’re not chasing the dream anymore.

You’ve been at this for five years. Have you set a deadline?

If you have an exit strategy, you’re setting yourself up for failure. There’s a David Mamet quote: “Those with something to fall back on invariably fall back on it.” If this is all you have, you have no choice but to succeed. I’m sure I could be a killer lawyer, but when I’m doing my stupid little rap videos or the dumb little sketches that make me laugh, I feel so at home in the universe. Sorry, I’ve got to get a little hippie on you here. 

You also have done some dramatic acting.

If you trace my career as an actor at Princeton, it felt as though in two out of every three plays I did, I was cast as a rape victim. My mother hated that, but I liked doing high-stakes stuff. Generally the things I self-produce are going to be comedic because no one is going to tune into YouTube on their lunch break to watch something Brechtian. Angst ­doesn’t sell cereal. 

Does your Princeton degree help in the entertainment ­business?

It doesn’t really help in the Hollywood world, but it ­doesn’t really hurt, either. The bummer is that there’s such a huge Harvard network out here [in Los Angeles], and that absolutely helps if you want to be a comedy writer. It annoys me. We have plenty of awesome Princeton kids out here who are super-talented. I’ve done a few videos with my friend Aliza Pearl. Maybe two Princeton friends stick together and as one of them gets more successful, she brings the other along. You want to work with people you know are smart, responsible, and talented. And I know my Princeton friends are.

— Interview conducted and condensed by Mark F. Bernstein ’83

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CURRENT ISSUE: July 11, 2012