“Fuck Chelsea!” a dozen students shout from the desks of a Louis Hall classroom. They pound their fists and scream in unison at the video camera in front of them, rattling their laptops and spilling LaCroix. In the center of it all is the mastermind: Communication sophomore Chelsea Jacobson*, doing the exact same thing.
They’re filming a comedic sketch to be screened before Jacobson takes the stage in the fourth live show of The Blackout, Northwestern’s first student-produced late-night variety show. Jacobson launched the show in the fall, inspired by the comedic exploits of NU alumni Stephen Colbert (Speech ‘86) and Seth Meyers (Speech ‘96). Eight months later, after four shows, contributions from over 100 students and the departure of their co-founder and executive producer, they’re still trying to answer the central question: Can a fully student-run Saturday Night Live spinoff succeed?
The “Fuck Chelsea” skit is an odd beginning considering this particular episode, filmed on April 30, is supposed to be space-themed. But that’s the beauty of a variety show and the reason Jacobson loved the idea: Students can include any and all comedic content.
“For someone making [the show], it’s super fun because we can do almost anything and everything,” Jacobson says.
And they do. The contents of the show, broadcast twice per quarter, range in topic and comedic tone. Jacobson reads jokes about both local and global happenings from a teleprompter, adding her own riffs in between. She mentions Northwestern’s most recent, notably-low acceptance rate of 10.7 percent, wonders if her dad will finally be proud of her, and notes that not only are the NHL Playoffs heating up, but the climate is, too.
Months of preparation go into each live show. Chelsea brainstorms with the writers, manages the details of filming sketches, organizes interviews and pulls everyone else together during Monday night all-staff meetings. In total, it’s a 25-hour per week job.
“It’s fair to say this is one of the most ambitious things in recent RTVF memory,” says Weinberg junior and head writer Joshua D. Razo. “It’s also a film club; you have all these great people doing sound and costuming and makeup, but at the heart of it, it’s a comedy show.”
Because of the diverse skill set required for both planning and live production, Jacobson describes her recruitment efforts Fall Quarter as a full-time job. The size of her staff has been growing steadily ever since. Drawing mostly from RTVF students, the show has attracted 40 consistent writers, technicians, actors, producers and marketers, though about a hundred others have contributed in some capacity.
Jacobson is trying to make the show a Northwestern institution, a beloved routine event like Burlesque or Waa-Mu, but the large-scale format of the platform and the sheer amount of time required to execute each show has caused some team members to question the direction of The Blackout. Two days after the April 30 show, co-founder and executive producer Devon Kerr, a Communication sophomore, left the The Blackout. In his opinion, it was growing too fast in both staff size and aspirations. And in the fall, Jacobson will go abroad, putting the show in uncharted waters with a new host.
Jacobson says she wants to improve The Blackout further by searching for ways she, as the show’s host, can showcase the talents and voices of the student body, in part through interviews with people across Northwestern. She hopes the show, a product of passion, persistence and the rowdy hilarity of college, will continue to evolve for the better.
“I believe in my crew, and I believe in the campus community that has supported us,” Jacobson says in a moment of seriousness. “I believe that we can take this project further than we have, and I know we will.”