PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — You’ve watched Stephen Colbert. You’ve seen Fallon, and Kimmel, and Corden and Conan. But have you watched Irwin?
That would be Jesse Irwin. He is the creator and host of a very creative little late-night talk show based right here in Pittsburgh.
“Pitt Tonight,” announcer Austin Nebbia declares, comes to you “live from the bottom of the tallest educational building in the Western Hemisphere!”
It stars University of Pittsburgh student Jesse Irwin of Squirrel Hill, and it’s produced with the help of about 70 of his fellow Pitt students.
Since last fall, they’ve recorded, and posted online, five episodes of the late-night-style talk show about all things Pitt and Pittsburgh. Guests have included Pitt Chancellor Patrick Gallagher and Pitt women’s basketball coach Susie McConnell-Serio; Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto and former Allegheny County coroner Dr. Cyril Wecht; “Pittsburgh Dad” creators Curt Wooten and Chris Preksta; and nationally-known Pitt poet and writing professor Terrance Hayes.
Irwin opens each show with a deadpan monologue, developed by a team of writers led by Phil Forrence, Joe Marchi and Raghav Sharma, who also doubles as Irwin’s on-air sidekick – a talk-show must.
“A new report says 18- to 34-year-olds use Facebook for about a thousand minutes a month,” Irwin informs his audience. “Wow, a thousand minutes a month. That’s enough time to respond to my messages, Karen.”
Laughter, as it often does during “Pitt Tonight” tapings, ensues.
The staff also comes up with goofy comedy bits – including a segment called, “Apologies to Professors,” a twist on Jimmy Fallon’s popular, “Thank You Notes.”
Irwin: “I’m sorry, Dr. Korman. When your fly was down, I should have just let it go, rather than trying to fix it for you.”
A house band? Sure, they’ve got one – a group that formed just for this show, called Allies of the Boulevard. And the show frequently features performances by campus arts groups.
And like the best late-night hosts, Irwin gets serious people to do silly things – like getting Pitt Senior Vice Chancellor Kathy Humphrey to sing a duet with him about her former longtime job as dean of students (“Dean on Me,” to the tune of “Lean on Me”).
Ken Rice: “Did anybody say, ‘Sorry kids, this is a university. We pursue academics. Late-night talk shows are not part of the program.”
In fact, Irwin says the administration has been a big supporter of the show, ever since he and his friend Mason Lazarcheff proposed it. They spread the word and students by the dozen signed on to be part of it.
Hayley Ulmer, a sophomore studying theater arts and communications, became the executive producer. But students from many different fields of study pitch in. And on campus, “Pitt Tonight” is a hit. The season finale at the Charity Randall Theater was standing room only.
“They love it,” says Irwin. “Because it’s a social commentary on the life in Oakland and life as a college student and it’s relatable. Our best stuff is the stuff Colbert and Fallon and Kimmel aren’t doing, because it’s our voice.”
“Pitt Tonight” Online:
Oh, there’s a unique voice on the show alright. Even older guests embrace the vibe, reminiscing about their own college days:
“I smoked a lot of weed,” Mayor Peduto volunteered on the show, and described how he followed the Grateful Dead around and took quite a while to earn a degree. “But that was the ‘80s… because of that I had to work twice as hard in order to be able to create a career.”
In a triumph of absurdity, “Pitt Tonight” got world-famous forensic pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht to agree to perform a live “autopsy” – on the host. After being wheeled onto stage on a gurney wearing only underwear, Irwin nervously inquired whether Wecht had ever had a live patient before.
Said Wecht, “A couple of times, when the incisions start, they wake up…”
The audience cracked up, but the bit was just getting going.
Irwin: “If you were to hypothetically commit a murder, how would you go about doing it so that the coroner would not be able to tell what the cause of death is?”
Wecht: “Listen, fun is fun, and my free time is my free time. But now you’re into some heavy, private consultation. Gimme a call.”
Irwin is double-majoring in political science and broadcast journalism, and spent the spring semester as an intern here at KDKA-TV. It’s possible he may be even more excited about the internship he’s lined up for this summer. He’ll be Los Angeles, working on Conan O’Brien’s show.
As for “Pitt Tonight,” it’s on break for the summer, but Irwin says stay tuned for more in his upcoming final year at Pitt.
At the end of this season’s final show, he got emotional, reflecting on the 70 to 80 hour weeks he and his colleagues have put into the endeavor.
“This has been the greatest eight months of my life and I appreciate you all supporting us,” he told the audience. “Everybody have an incredible summer. Thank you so much. Good night!”