From Saturday Night Live stars Seth Meyers and Julia Louis-Dreyfus to Comedy Central host Stephen Colbert, Northwestern has a long history of alumni dominating late-night television. But one RTVF sophomore, Chelsea Jacobson, isn’t waiting until graduation.
Jacobson is the creator and host of Northwestern’s only monthly late-night variety show, “The Blackout,” which debuted last December. The show contains "sketches, stand-up, student group performances, interviews and more!" as Jacobson said. On her show, she has taken digs at the University, Oprah and the Gaffield Gazer, as well as featured a performance from Boomshaka and quizzed students on the Alma Mater lyrics (they didn't do well). Jacobson sat down with me on Monday night for a brief Q&A about the show.
How were you inspired to start “The Blackout”?
I spent the summer in Los Angeles, and Jill Lieberman, the producer of Jimmy Kimmel, is actually a Northwestern alum. She’s super nice and lets students come to Jimmy Kimmel Live and sit in the control room during the show and watch. So that was really awesome. Being around that, I was like, “this is so cool! I would love to do this as a career later.” And then I also thought, “A late night show is something that could really succeed in a college setting.”
I had the idea probably in August, when my co-producer Devon Kerr and I started thinking about it, and it’s just really been snowballing from there.
What do you see as “The Blackout”’s mission? Is there a certain group of students that you’re trying to reach?
I think the mission would be that it can be for everyone. That it’s a way for everyone on the campus to be connected through humor about our life here and humor about life in general, and a way for the student body who has so many talented kids to use their talents. I mean, there are 30 kids already working on this project. Ideally, it’s ours as a Northwestern community and is catered toward us, but it is also online, and a lot of the jokes and content are accessible to anyone. So I think that would be our goal: that it’s by and for Northwestern students but it can also be shared.
I know there’s a fair amount of competition for late-night activities on campus. How are you trying to get people to choose “The Blackout”?
I think it’s unlike anything else you’re going to find here. It didn't exist here prior and it’s the nature of a variety show that there will be something for everyone. In just our first show, we had a sketch, an opening monologue, some stand up to warm up the crowd, Homecoming king and queen and Boomshaka, so almost everyone in that audience had a connection to someone who was performing.
What has been the biggest challenge in trying to create a new student group at Northwestern?
I think the biggest challenge has been that there’s no precedent set for this kind of project to my knowledge, at least on the scale that we’re doing. There is no late-night talk show like this at any college that we’ve been able to find in our research, particularly with the website so accessible and the YouTube channel and all of it taped. There are some live shows where it’s not taped, but we’re really trying to be a web series – like a TV show online. Having no precedent for that is kinda like “what do we do?” You have to build everything without a clear example to follow.
It’s even little things like being a woman doing late-night. Like what do I wear? I can’t wear a suit every time. Men always wear suits, with jackets and ties, and they can just combine colors so it’s fine. I’m just like, “Am I just going to have to wear a different black dress every time? How do I do this?” So it’s little things like that where there isn’t a set status quo. It’s funny to have to make the call yourself; there’s no one to look up to.
What has been your favorite sketch or other material that you’ve produced so far?
The feedback has been that the opening monologue was really strong. Our head writer Joshua Razo and the writers compiled that. I think so far working on this project, that has been one of my more favorite moments because it was, like, crazy that we did this thing. The monologue in particular is highly collaborative because Josh, all the writers, me and Devon all pitched the jokes, made the graphics and were involved.
Is there anything else you want readers to know about your project?
I guess I want them to know that the people who work on this project have been so awesome and supportive and capable and funny. Working on this project has made me so thankful to go to this school that I do, where I can have this idea on a whim, and then have people around me that are talented and dedicated enough to actually make it happen. “The Blackout” is so reliant upon the work of everyone else, and every day I can’t believe how talented everyone is and how professional, supportive and excited everyone has been. And that goes for people who haven’t been working on the project, too – just people who have seen content and are on board. Everyone has been really on board, which is awesome.
“The Blackout”’s next show is booked for January 30th in the McCormick Tribune Center at 8 p.m., and the group is hosting general crew petitions from January 13 to 15. For more information, you can visit http://www.theblackoutnorthwestern.com/.