Funny Business


Jacob Greenia

Henrique Cezar

JSC Associate Professor of Business and Economics Henrique Cezar is fluent in four languages and landed in Vermont almost by accident. Recently Basement Medicine sat down for an interview with this exuberant chef, aspiring comedian, world traveler, and economic mentor.

What do you like to cook?

I like to combine different ingredients and make a completely different dish, an unexpected type of flavor. So when I invite someone over for a party, I like to make the dinner a surprise. I’d say a fusion, if you want to summarize it into one word.

How much does growing up in Brazil influence that? Do you miss it?

They have this national dish that’s made with black beans and rice, it’s like a big meal. I miss that. I’ve never found the right ingredients to make that dish here. I also miss a lot of the fresh squeezed juices that they have there with fresh fruits from South America, which we don’t have here. People have no idea what’s there. Those things, I miss.

What are your favorite restaurants in Vermont and Montreal?

I like to go to those restaurants that the chef owns the place. I don’t like those large chains of restaurants. I also like small restaurants where there’s not too many people, and I like to go to restaurants where people know about food. I don’t have a specific [restaurant] here in Vermont, I haven’t found any like that. But in Montreal they have a lot of what they call “cartier” or corner restaurants. The word “cartier” means a block. It’s like a neighborhood, so if you live in Montreal, you have those different neighborhoods, you’d have like a local restaurant for those people there. I don’t have a specific [restaurant] but those would be it.

Who are five individuals, dead or alive, that you would like to have dinner with?

I would like to have dinner with Joey Ramone from the Ramones, the lead singer. I would like to have dinner with Winston Churchill; I’d like to hear the guy speaking. I’d like to have dinner with Dave Chappelle because I think the guy’s very intelligent and funny. I’d like to have dinner with Cleopatra if I could, there’s something very intriguing about that woman. I’d like, I don’t know if you know her, Golda Meir, she was the Prime Minister for Israel, right in the beginning. I would like to have dinner with them, sounds very intriguing.

How did you get from Brazil to Vermont?

That was a long process, a long journey of how I arrived here in Vermont. I didn’t even know what Vermont was when I left Brazil. I don’t think I ever heard about it to be honest. I’m sure most people in this country would be surprised. Well, I’m sure they have now because of Bernie [Sanders]. I left Brazil and came to the United States because I wanted to start fresh. Like those Irish young kids did back in the nineteen hundreds when they left the island to come to United States with nothing. Yeah, I did that very similarly, just pack everything and just came here. I started in Miami, and then I went to California. I studied there — I went to California State University — and I got a job as a stock trader. Then I moved to the east coast, I did this for about five years. I decided I didn’t like the job, so I went back to graduate school in Montreal, at McGill [University], stayed there about four years. Then I got a job in Vermont, that’s when I came here. That’s the journey.

Why did you leave Brazil?

It’s a little bit better now, I think, but at that time we’re talking about almost twenty-five years ago. So, economically, it was very bad, there was no prospective for jobs. It was not fair, the system was not fair. The system was very unfair if you have no connections or nothing like that. So it was that, plus the fact that I was always curious to come to this country. You know, you watch TV, you watch cartoons, you watch a bunch of stuff. Also, it was 1994 during the World Cup in the United States, so I also came here for the World Cup and I just never left.

What do you enjoy about teaching?

Oh, I like several things. But what I most like is to see the spark in the eye of a student that doesn’t know something, and I was the one that taught that to them. I want them to have that moment of like, ‘oh my God!’ I didn’t know that and now I know. So if I’m able to provide that feeling to the student, that’s what I like about it. I also like to speak in public, I am very comfortable teaching. I can talk a lot, I can do filibusters with my eyes closed, I can talk for hours and hours. I also use my classroom as a little bit of my audience for the jokes for when I do my stand-up, so my classroom is my audience. It’s a test, I test my jokes on my students

Great segue, let’s talk comedy. What’s the draw for you? Masochism? Exhibitionism?

Could be, it could be all of that. My zodiac sign is a Leo, so they say the Leos are like that. It’s definitely attention, no question about that. I love the attention. I also want to get the attention by doing something intelligent. I don’t want to just get the attention by just painting my face or taking a watermelon and putting it in my neck and start walking around. That’s not the attention I want. I want the attention when people say this guy’s clever, this is good or he made me laugh, et cetera. That’s the thrill I get from that, I like the feedback I get from the audience. I believe laugh[ter] is good for learning. Cracking jokes in the classroom helps student motivation for learning. Students create a bond with the professor the same way the audience will bond with a comedian. Students like when their professor shows [their] artistic side outside the classroom. Some of them have attended most of my performances, it helps [with] student attendance, retention, and recruitment; [what] student does not want to pay for a class where they can get a stand-up show for free every time?

Do you have any favorite jokes?

There’s several jokes that I use in the classroom. I use the joke of the pineapple express for my students that arrive late and have red eyes. Kind of like putting the student on the spot a little bit, but having fun. Usually if they’re late, I can tell those kids they took the pineapple express to come to class. It’s good for breaking the ice. I use that joke a lot. People talk about my accent and certain words that they find funny.

Whom do you most admire amongst comedians?

There are two comedians that I like the most. I mean, Dave Chappelle is definitely very funny. I like Jerry Seinfeld very much and I like Ellen DeGeneres very much. This type of humor I like a lot. Dave Chappelle can be a little dirty; I like the clean, silly humor. I don’t like the dirty humor. Of course everybody’s gonna laugh when you say something that’s sexually oriented, but I think that’s a cheap shot. I like to use everyday situations and change it.

What makes something funny?

That’s a very complicated question, I’ve never been trained. I don’t think any comedian goes to school, some of them are writers and stuff. I confess I’m actually a really bad writer. So what I do is just when something pops in my head and I don’t know what it is, and I don’t know there’s a joke right there! It’s organic.

You were a certified stock trader for the New York Stock Exchange and NASDAQ. Why did you stop working in the private sector?

What I don’t like about the private sector is rules, I don’t like to work under a set of rules. That’s one. By rules I mean arriving at this time, leaving at this time, take the break at this time. Like, for example, I start my day at eleven a.m. but I go all the way to eight p.m. I had this type of schedule that’s not regular, and if you want to work in the private sector you kind of need to follow that. Don’t like this. I also don’t like, and I think it’s healthy, but sometimes it’s very bad when you have the corporate America competition feeling. Like all those people have to compete against each other to get a job. It creates a very bad feeling in the environment that you work, you’re always constantly looking around and watching your back and watching around. Like this guy’s gonna pass you, this is not good. Plus the fact that I think that I’m a very effective teacher, I was not a very effective stock trader. I was the one teaching people how to trade stocks, but when I was going to trade stocks, my personality, typical Latin America personality, very emotional. It’s not good for trading stocks.

Is it safe to say that you don’t miss that lifestyle?

I don’t miss the lifestyle of the private sector at all.

Do you have any worries about the present condition of the American economy?

I’m actually creating a class called Seminar in Capitalism, because that’s what I think we’re missing. The majority of the universities are missing the other side of the equation. I think we’re being very focused on socialists and big government, and your generation, and the ones behind you don’t know the whole picture. You have a piece of the picture and that sounds good, but when you put it together in the real context, you’re gonna see that there’s a lot of flaws. So I do have the worry that this country will [get] too much into debt and too much into big government, which is something that I completely disagree [with]. I’m actually libertarian, I’m a part of the libertarian national party. That’s what I fear, that we’ve deviated from that model.

What’s your favorite city?

Several cities that I like, because I like the ocean very much. But I think I would put Berlin as my favorite city.

Is there anywhere that you have yet to travel to that you would like to visit?

There’s many countries that I’d like to go [to], I’m going to Thailand now with a group of students in mid-May. But the places in the world that I don’t know that I’d love to go are Africa — I’ve never been there, I’ve been to northern Africa — but I’d like to see the real Africa as you imagine, I’ve never been there. I’d also like to visit islands and places that people don’t go, I don’t like touristic places, I like to visit places that nobody has ever heard about. Have you ever seen “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown?” I love this type of travelling, you go to a place, and you sit in a local restaurant that the owner cooks local food that you’ll try. I’d also like to go to India, I don’t care much about going to Europe to be honest with you, maybe Eastern Europe, but Western Europe I don’t really care. Latin America… I pretty much know everywhere there.