University of Pittsburgh
October 3, 2016

Q and A with Pitt Tonight's Jesse Irwin


Katie Fike


The University of Pittsburgh received its first College/University Production Award nominations from the Mid-Atlantic Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences in August. The student-run late-night talk show Pitt Tonight was nominated in the Arts and Entertainment/Cultural Affairs category for its first episode and in the Talent category for senior Jesse Irwin, the show’s host and creator. Irwin is a senior studying political science, broadcast journalism, and film studies in the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences. Below is a Q and A with Irwin before he traveled to Philadelphia for the Sept. 24 Emmy® Awards Gala.Jesse Irwin

How did the idea of Pitt Tonight come about?

In February 2014, I had finished my first semester at Pitt. It was 11:30 at night. I turned on [The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy] Fallon, who was starting that night. I was watching, and, for some reason, something just clicked in my head. And not the idea at first. It was the idea that I loved what they were doing. They were able to make jokes, talk about the news, talk to cool people, and then have their audience, whether it was the in-studio audience or the people at home, in just a great mood, falling asleep laughing. So, I texted my friend Mason [Lazarcheff], and I said, “Mason, we should do this at Pitt.” And he was like, “I’m in.”

Maybe I wasn’t comfortable enough at Pitt to break out of the stuff I was a part of, WPTS, The Pitt News, things that had been so good to me. The following spring, I started pitching the idea with Mason. I spent the summer of 2015 writing the constitution for it. I came back, and we just hit the ground running.

The idea really came from the experiences I was having at WPTS and doing the broadcasting, covering sports, talking to my cohosts, and The Pitt News and covering news, but I always loved putting a little funny spin on it. It’s my personality. I love talking to people. To be able to see a format like that and watch this wave of new late-night hosts with Colbert, Corden, and Meyers, and all these people, it was so motivating. Why am I going for either comedy or broadcasting? Why don’t I just actually tackle the job I want to do?

Who are your inspirations in the entertainment industry? Why?

I will say, locally, my dad. My dad’s a lawyer, but he was asked to host a talk show on local-access television. The show is called Steve Irwin’s Political Jungle, and it’s the most fun my dad’s had. Being able to see my dad enjoy that has been really fun for me.

There’s a guy named Yogi Roth. Yogi’s like my big brother. Yogi played football at Pitt. Now he’s working in LA. Watching him go through broadcasting and TV, as I found what I want to do, he’s been a really, really helpful person. So, that’s another person in the entertainment industry.

And you have your Fallons. You have your Stephen Colberts and your John Olivers.

What do audiences have to look forward to this season?

I feel like last year we were saying that we were finding our voice. I think we’re still finding it. I want to figure out where the line is between political and entertainment. I love John Oliver, and I love what he brings light to, whether it’s the bit about charter schools, whether it’s a bit about birds and migration patterns. I grew up in a very politically active family. I’d love to be able to bring awareness to stuff. The idea of bringing good causes into play. Trying to figure out how we can use our platform for good other than just making people smile. I would love for people to be smiling and laughing and then go out and volunteer. We had the Political Science Student Association registering people to vote for our first episode. Registered 15 people to vote. As we grow the media program and opportunities in student television here at Pitt, we’re really working to make our show a place that shines light on campus organizations that don’t get the publicity they deserve. So many students at Pitt are doing so many incredible things, and there’s no reason we shouldn’t be helping to highlight them.

Who are one realistic person and one unrealistic person that you would like to interview? Why?

We’ve been very lucky with our access to people. Pittsburgh’s small enough where you can pretty much connect anyone with anyone. It’s a three-degree separation. It’s been really helpful learning how to network. Realistically, I would love to have Dan Marino or the family of Gene Kelly. Someone who’s played a really big role in the Pitt community because it is a Pitt show. I think it’s just really neat when you can tie things back to Pitt. Thomas Starzl. People who have really changed the world in a positive way. Even Larry Fitzgerald. I go for athletes because I love sports, but there are so many people who have gone to Pitt who do such cool things. It’s kind of hard to pick one. Bennet Omalu would be really neat. Johnny Majors. Jeff Bergman. Jeff Bergman does the voice of Bugs [Bunny]. He went to Pitt. Mike Ditka. That’s my realistic interview, and my unrealistic interview is Bill Clinton. Or Brad Pitt.

Why do you think that opportunities like Pitt Tonight are important for students?

I think it’s an example of collaboration and a creative outlet for students. It’s really important in college, especially if you want to go into the field. It’s a learning environment, but it’s also learning PR. It’s learning how to give the right things the right amount of attention. It’s so much more educational than I think I ever realized it was going to be. You can’t get a job by just getting grades anymore.

Pitt Tonight
began its second season Aug. 28.