- Associated Press - Sunday, April 10, 2016

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) - Every week, a dozen University of Central Florida students sit at a square table with their laptops, reading stories on media websites.

Like a pinball machine, they shoot headlines and jokes at each other, back and forth, until something sticks.

“If we laugh at it, somebody else has got to laugh at it,” says 21-year-old Jordan Faiella of Coral Springs.

Faiella is one of about 30 students who write, produce and film their own late night comedy talk show at the University of Central Florida. It’s the campus version of, say, Jimmy Fallon or Conan O’Brien.

“ToKnight’s The Night,” which began in October, airs mainly on campus television but also lives on the Internet for the public to watch on YouTube and Facebook.



“They started it from the ground up,” said the school’s broadcast coordinator Dylan Yonts, the one students call when a monitor isn’t working or a light bulb needs changing. “This is their show.”

For the close-knit group, it has become their pet project.

Cherie Carr - who runs the jib, a camera that looks like it’s on a crane - pulls out her cellphone.

“I carry a picture of the jib around like it’s my kid,” she says.

They devote seven days a week to the show as they write their own skits or recruit local music acts and guests, some as well-known as Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, who will appear in April.

Their live Monday night shows are filmed in a professional-quality studio at UCF’s Nicholson School of Communications where one camera alone costs $50,000.

Several students say they are learning how to run the cameras and audio or the organization skills to put together a live show that they hope will lead them to jobs in behind-the-scenes production.

“I do feel much better prepared for the world by doing this,” said the show’s producer 23-year-old Tiffany Gentry of Lakeland, who majors in TV and radio broadcast production.

On a recent taping, student Carleton Carter waves a sign that says “Applause” and “Laugh” to energize the studio audience of about 10 or so. Some shows have reached a few hundred views on YouTube.

Stuck on set for seven hours, Faiella hides Hershey’s kisses and candy bars in the inside pockets of his plaid blazer for a snack.

Faiella is studying public administration and had plans to focus on affordable housing. Then he discovered making people laugh. It is euphoric, he says.

It was too late to change his major, the college senior says, but he hopes to gain experience working on the show and then land an internship in New York City this summer.

The delivery man for the jokes is Chris Nielsen, who plays host and gives his monologue on everything from the presidential election to UCF student life.

At his Georgia high school, he was the class clown and acted in farce plays. Now, the 21-year-old film major imitates Donald Trump and Sarah Palin with his deadpan delivery.

“It was my best Trump,” he quips at this week’s show. “Forgive me.”

In another episode, he receives modeling advice from his guest Miss Miami-Dade, Crystal Ruiz, and awkwardly puts his hands on his hips in an attempt at pageant walking.

The challenging part, Nielsen says, is the unpredictability when things go wrong on live television, like a microphone that fails. Early on, he accidentally swore under his breath when teleprompter malfunctioned and he read the wrong part.

“It was muttered,” Nielsen said.

“It was very clear,” said Megan Robinson, the student production coordinator, who stands nearby.

“It was clear?” Nielsen asks.

“It was clear,” she says.

___

Information from: Orlando Sentinel, https://www.orlandosentinel.com/

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