Shaw ‘14 works for laughs

Vivien Sweet, Staff Writer

Rebecca Shaw’s ’14 journey to becoming a staff writer on ‘The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon’ began in the third trimester of her senior year, when she replaced Physics with a Senior Initiative Project. Instead of learning about the trajectory of an air-pumped rocket, Shaw and classmates Sophie Mann ‘14 and Valerie Bodurtha ‘14 wrote and directed a high school themed musical called ‘Upper West Side Story,’ parodying the school’s culture and launching her into the world of comedy.

“For as long as I can remember, I grew up listening to old George Carlin records and watching old SNL episodes,” Shaw said. “But my Senior Initiative Project was really the first time I had allowed myself to think of working in comedy as something you could commit yourself to doing professionally.”

After graduating high school, Shaw continued her pursuits in comedy at Yale University, becoming director of the school’s sketch comedy group Red Hot Poker. Shaw, along with comedy partner Ben Kronengold, gave Yale’s annual comedic graduation address in 2018, which would jump-start their careers in the entertainment industry.

“We put the video of our speech on YouTube primarily for our friends and family to see, but it quickly went viral,” Shaw said. Because of the traction their address gained, Shaw and Kronengold were able to meet more people in the entertainment industry and sign with her current agents and manager in Los Angeles.

When the opportunity came for the pair to submit a packet of their work to ‘The Tonight Show,’ Shaw felt prepared, she said. Her experience in high school had helped shaped her ability to “make the most out of a rare opportunity,” she said.

Since March, Shaw has been working tirelessly around the clock writing nightly sketches, which consist of political cold opens, impressions, and anecdotal monologues, she said.

A new episode comes out every day, so Shaw’s schedule can be quite hectic, she said.

“Production of the show is incredibly fast-paced,” she said. “If something doesn’t quite go as planned, tomorrow is a new day and you can start from scratch.”

One of the most surreal experiences of her career was pitching a sketch to Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana and a popular Democratic presidential candidate, she said.

Last Monday, along with the sketch team, which includes Kronengold, Shaw wrote a “slow jam” on an imitation news station, where Buttigieg delivered his policy position, and Jimmy Fallon along with the Tonight Show’s in-house band, Roots, turned it into a “jazzy, suggestive” song. The segment was as ludicrous as it was informative, she said.

Shaw majored in political psychology at Yale, so writing political material is something she enjoys doing, she said.

Without the resources and freedom the school entrusted Shaw with during her Senior Initiative Project, she probably wouldn’t be anywhere close to the job she holds now, she said.

“Horace Mann doesn’t make slackers,” she said. “It’s hard to go out of the school and not have a good sense of what it takes to achieve your goals and how hard you need to work to get there.”