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A dream internship in The Big Apple

After The Tonight Show, what’s next for WSU senior Jake Sirianni?

Jake Sirianni dreamed of landing a summer internship with The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. But the odds of actually being selected were long, to say the least. In 2017, 10,000 students applied for 25 coveted spots.

Sirianni was determined to make his application stand out. So the Washington State University communications major decided to create a satirical rap video.

The video was intended to showcase his skills and make a personal pitch for the job. Until it was ready for final review, Sirianni kept his project a secret.

Code name “26”

The video spoofed the Blackalicious rap hit “Alphabet Aerobics,” specifically the version performed by actor Daniel Radcliffe on The Tonight Show in 2014. Sirianni code-named his project “26” for the number of letters in the alphabet.

In the darkest hours of the night, he toiled alone in the editing suites of Cable 8 Productions, the University’s student-run television station. The Hamilton soundtrack blasted through his headphones for creative inspiration.

Jake Sirianni in the Cable 8 studio

Jake Sirianni sits backstage in the studio of Cable 8 Productions, a student-run broadcast station at WSU.

Cable 8 was familiar territory. For years, Sirianni had spent much of his time there when he wasn’t in class. He and his fellow students had applied what they learned in the classroom, producing their own shows and running the TV station almost entirely on their own. Sirianni learned by doing.

Now, driven by a creative vision, Cable 8 became his after-hours haven. He would return there nearly every night for over a month as the video took shape.

“I had access to state-of-the-art equipment, which was really cool. Because as a student it’s not necessarily a normal thing to come into a studio at 3:00 in the morning, shoot a rap video, and edit it for a lot of hours.”

It took Sirianni about 10 days to rewrite the rap lyrics. His words honored his favorite comedy writers and Tonight Show history. They also highlighted his qualifications for the internship.

Once he was satisfied with the new lyrics, Sirianni asked his friend Matt Haddow to shoot video of him performing the rewritten rap. Then came the editing. Sirianni spent about 40 hours removing Daniel Radcliffe from the video and editing himself in.

“I had access to state-of-the-art equipment, which was really cool,” Sirianni said. “Because as a student it’s not necessarily a normal thing to come into a studio at 3:00 in the morning, shoot a rap video, and edit it for a lot of hours.”

Sirianni sought feedback from trusted experts: a WSU professor, his high school video production teacher, and a WSU alumnus in the TV industry.

At last, show time

On March 20, he went public. Sirianni published his video on YouTube and shared it on his personal social media channels. A friend shared the video on Reddit where it received some nice comments and, as Sirianni says, many “not-so-nice” comments. Then Mashable picked it up. And then The Today Show. His video was going viral.

“I remember getting an email at 4:00 in the morning on the 22nd from a Today Show producer asking if they could use the clip. I was actually still up studying for an exam,” Sirianni said.

Screen shot of Jake's application video showing Jake performing with Jimmie Fallon in the background

Sirianni’s rap video went viral and propelled him toward a coveted summer internship with The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.

By the end of the day, his video had attracted more than 100,000 views.

At 11:35 p.m. on March 22, Sirianni sat in the WSU Global Scholars residence hall lounge watching The Tonight Show, surrounded by friends. It was a surreal moment: Fallon said his name on the air and offered him a summer internship.

Pursuing a dream

Late-night comedy has long been Sirianni’s passion. He grew up watching Saturday Night Live and The Tonight Show. He has sat in the studio audience for tapings of several late-night shows featuring comedy giants: Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, Conan O’Brien, and James Corden. He can rattle off the names of the writers and producers for these shows and has even formed connections with some of them. He dreams of following in the footsteps of his hero, Lorne Michaels, executive producer of Saturday Night Live, The Tonight Show, and Late Night.

“The Murrow College has a really good reputation for producing storytellers.”

Sirianni knew he needed the right education to put his goals within reach. He zeroed in on the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at WSU because it had schooled television standouts: namesake Edward R. Murrow, legendary sportscaster Keith Jackson, and CNN anchor Ana Cabrera, to name a few.

Jake pointing to Murrow Hall on WSU campus

Sirianni points back at Murrow Hall, home to the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication.

“The Murrow College has a really good reputation for producing storytellers,” Sirianni said.

Sirianni is not afraid of hard work, which he knows is essential for career success. At WSU he has served as president of the Cable 8 student organization for 2 years running. He credits his Cable 8 experience with helping him learn to network and build professional relationships.

“I was a little awkward my freshman year,” Sirianni said. “I remember at some of my first Cable 8 meetings, I would hold my breath so I wouldn’t breathe too loudly. But once I got into the community, that really helped.”

Once-in-a-lifetime opportunity

Sirianni beams when he describes his epic summer as an intern for The Tonight Show. He says it was one of the best experiences of his life.

“It put me one step further toward my dream,” he said. “It put me directly in that environment where I could learn how to successfully put on a production and make a show from scratch every day.”

Jake waving Ol' Crimson at the NBC studios in New York

Sirianni waves the Cougar flag outside of 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York City where The Tonight Show is filmed.

Sirianni didn’t waste any time during his summer in New York City. When he wasn’t at work, he was attending weekly improv comedy classes and nightly shows at the famed Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, founded by comedians Amy Poehler, Matt Besser, Ian Roberts, and Matt Walsh.

“It put me one step further toward my dream,” he said. “It put me directly in that environment where I could learn how to successfully put on a production and make a show from scratch every day.”

He also continued creating his own brand of hilarious videos and posting them to social media. Sirianni wrote another rap and produced a video featuring his fellow interns as a “thank you” to The Tonight Show team.

He ate breakfast with 2 of his comedy-writing heroes, John Haskell and Dan Opsal, both formerly of The Tonight Show. He met Internet personality and bestselling author Gary Vaynerchuck. He even saw Lorne Michaels once on the street outside 30 Rock.

Oh my gosh, I can’t stop smiling,” Sirianni said, recalling the summer.

What’s next?

Sirianni hopes someday to become an executive producer in comedy. He credits The Tonight Show internship with helping him define his career aspirations.

“Every day when I went into that office, it just filled me with so much joy,” he said. “I passed people in the halls whose work I’d been watching for 2 or 3 years. I want to work in an environment like that.”

Jake standing outside Murrow Hall with a quizzical look on his face.

Wearing a shirt that honors one of his favorite late-night comedy shows, Sirianni talks about his goals after graduation.

Now in his senior year, Sirianni has a loose post-graduation plan. If his finances work out, he hopes to return to New York City and get an entry-level production assistant job or something similar. He wishes to work in a creative role in late-night comedy. After a few years, he figures he’ll reevaluate and see if he wants to try technical or administrative roles.

“Then again, I’m just a senior in college. I don’t really know what I’m talking about,” he said, chuckling.

Sirianni said he’d love to return to The Tonight Show. It’s a community that he admires.

“Legacy is really important,” he said. “I want to work on something that changes the game.”

“There was a really good energy to who was there, what they were doing, and why they were doing it,” he explained. “The ‘why’ is really important. If Jimmy didn’t love what he was doing, and all the people who help produce the show didn’t love it, it wouldn’t be what it is.”

Ultimately, Sirianni hopes to make people laugh and enjoy whatever opportunities come his way. He’s ready to roll up his sleeves, work hard, and make the world a better (and funnier) place.

“Legacy is really important,” he said. “I want to work on something that changes the game.”