Most Pitt students remember Mr. McFeely from “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” as the delivery man, but few expected to see him sink his first shot in “Pitt Tonight Pong” Thursday night.
David Newell, the actor who portrayed Mr. McFeely, appeared on Pitt Tonight’s fifth and final episode at 8 p.m. in the Charity Randall Theater on Thursday. About 300 people showed up to watch the student-produced late-night show finish its first season.
“I grew up in Pittsburgh, and seeing Mr. McFeely was really great,” said Cara Lyons, a sophomore religious studies major. “I thought it was a great way to engage with the community.”
Along with Newell, a number of notable locals made guest appearances on the finale, including Pittsburgh mayor Bill Peduto and YouTube stars Chris Preksta and Curt Wootton — creators of the popular “Pittsburgh Dad” videos.
Before the show — which was free for Pitt students and $1 for everyone else — a line of fans wrapped around the entrance of the theater and down Forbes Avenue to Bigelow Boulevard, eagerly awaiting the last Pitt Tonight episode of the school year.
Junior political science and film studies major Jesse Irwin originally introduced the idea of hosting a Pitt version of “The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon” to Chancellor Patrick Gallagher a year ago.
“I went to him backstage [at an INTEL convention] and said to him, ‘Chancellor Gallagher, I would really love to do this idea, I think it would be great,’” Irwin said. “‘We have the kids who really want to do it, and I think it would be a great way to bring the school together.’”
Gallagher made a guest appearance on Pitt Tonight’s first show in December. Since then, Irwin and his cast — including his on-stage sidekick, Raghav Sharma — have followed the standard late-night sequence: monologue, followed by a desk piece, an interview and then performances.
Jimmy Fallon added sketch and game components to the basic formula, and “that’s the fun model,” Irwin said.
After starting from scratch, the show has accumulated a team of more than 70 students, complete with a marketing team, a house band called “Allies of the Boulevard,” a stage crew and more than 30 writers.
Mason Lazarcheff, co-executive producer, said its guests this year — ranging from Chancellor Patrick Gallagher to Market Central cashier Ophelia Ferguson — are meant to embody the city.
“The goal in the end is to incorporate as many Pittsburgh people around the area and even on the national scale,” Lazarcheff, a senior film studies major said.
Set on the stage, backed by the red curtain and bright lights of the Charity Randall Theater, the show’s frenetic finale drew in some of the most prominent members of the Pittsburgh community, new and old, and concluded the show’s long process of creative development.
Irwin began the night by relaying the latest news headlines and stories. He went on with a bit about the reasons humans first became monogamous. Before it was to avoid STDs, “the previous notion was that humans became monogamous to avoid disappointing multiple partners,” Irwin joked.
After the monologue, Irwin introduced the audience to a new segment titled “Apologies to My Professors,” in which he delivered puns and punch lines from students to their professors like “ I’m sorry, Dr. Corman, when your fly was down, I should have just let it go rather than trying to fix it for you.”
The show also featured groups from across Pitt’s campus, including the dance group Controlled Chaos backed by the a cappella group C-Flat Run and a closing performance with The Pitt Ballet Club dancing along to local Pitt band, The Naughties.
Members of the Pitt Tonight cast and crew, reflecting on their favorite moments from throughout the season, pointed to an interview in the fourth episode as particularly memorable.
On April 11, the program featured Pittsburgh-based Forensic Pathologist Cyril Wecht. Wecht was a natural on stage, members of the cast said. He used two Pitt Tonight writers to show the audience how the “single bullet theory” of JFK’s assassination couldn’t have been possible.
He then proceeded to humorously demonstrate on Irwin, the still-living host, the process of an autopsy with markers.
“It was really funny and really hard trying to make myself not laugh so we wouldn’t pick that up on the audio while I was rolling the camera,” Lazarcheff said.
Earlier in the season, Pitt Tonight produced a video challenging Jimmy Fallon to a Primanti Bros. sandwich eating contest in an effort to make it onto “The Tonight Show.” Their video went viral and launched a social media campaign that reached at least a quarter of a million people.
In the end, “The Tonight Show” production crew denied Pitt Tonight’s request but sent the cast members an email lauding their accomplishments both with the campaign and the show.
Despite the show’s success, the crew does not have a theater or studio to claim as its own. Film studies students rented all of the equipment to use on a show-by-show basis.
Looking back, Will Sharples, a junior marketing and film studies major and co-executive producer for the show, said he is humbled to think at what the Pitt Tonight crew has created.
“It was chaotic, hectic, but also the single greatest thing I’ve done in my life,” he said.
The entire production crew hopes to continue this show beyond its first year and turn it into a staple of the Pitt cultural scene.
“Everybody’s goal is for this to be the next big cultural phenomenon at Pitt,” said Sharples.