Jake Sasseville ain’t bragging, he’s done it
Story by Michael Aaron Gallagher of StayFamous.Net
“In the late night television arena, Jake Sasseville is impossible to ignore. He is quirky, original and wildly entertaining.” – StayFamous.Net
As the youngest host in late night television, 24 year-old Jake Sasseville is proving that with true heart, persistence and an unrelenting will to succeed, almost anything is possible. Sasseville, who calls himself the “#1 Underdog in Late Night,” has become the voice of a generation of viewers who have lost interest in the heavily-scripted, older talk show hosts like Jay Leno and David Letterman.
“I think there’s something to be said about the fact that our generation is the one that’s up late doing different things,” Sasseville said. “And it only makes sense that we have someone that’s our age in the driver’s seat of a show.”
Sasseville, who is originally from Auburn, Maine, began his television career on a public access station nine years ago. With an innovative business model behind his talk show, “The Edge with Jake Sasseville” expanded to ABC affiliates and was eventually syndicated across the United States. Now, his new revamped show, “Late Night Republic with Jake Sasseville,” currently airs in approximately 75 markets around the country.
As a result of his success, he has attracted the attention of some of the country’s biggest brands, including Coke, Proctor & Gamble, Ford, Microsoft, and Overstock.com, who recognize his ability to promote their products through his diverse media platforms, directly to the 18 to 34 year-old demographic that primarily makes up his viewing audience.
According to Sasseville, his drive to succeed and to be the best was influenced by the early experiences he had growing up, as he watched those around him deal with hardships. From his own struggle with weight, to witnessing firsthand the challenges that close family members faced as they battled Parkinson’s disease and alcoholism, Sasseville was confronted with personal tragedies that ultimately helped shape him into the man he is today.
“When I was 16, my brother passed away from cancer.” Sasseville said. “He was 13 and he had been challenged with cancer for a couple of years. And I was actually there. I watched him pass into wherever the next world is – whatever you believe to be – the progression of what happens after you close your eyes and take your last breath. I saw my 13 year-old brother experience that and what that did for me was it really made me realize how fleeting life is, and how I have every opportunity right now to just live truly life to its fullest. And so why would I accept anything less than that, after seeing firsthand how very quickly it can all go?”
Almost a decade after his television debut, Sasseville has combined his unique talents and original brand of comedy, blending authentic charm, impeccable comedic timing and perceptive wit, with a sense of purpose that is touching the lives of people all over the world.
I recently had the chance to talk to Jake Sasseville and his publicist Caitlin Engel about his late night journey and see a glimpse of the adventures to come.
Michael Aaron Gallagher: “Tell me a little bit about how you got started hosting your own show.”
Jake Sasseville: “I started when I was 15, in Maine. I was a fat kid with a big dream, and my dream was to be on television. I actually started in magic. I would do these crazy magic shows… but I thought, ‘I don’t know how far I could actually take this magic thing, and frankly, I want to be famous.’ I mean I’ll be very honest, that was the reason I started this whole thing, because I thought with fame you can change everything. You can change the world. It’s really naive, but it’s still kind of true today.”
“But I didn’t really look famous. I mean if you look at me at 320 pounds it wasn’t really a good situation for fame. I had to have very creative photography. It’s always above the eyeline.”
“So I started a local access TV show called ‘The Edge.’ I got a bunch of my friends to help me out. And two years into that, I would basically do anything for a laugh, much like today. So I thought, ‘How do I take this to the next level?’ How I got it to the next level was booking celebrities. It was very difficult from the state of Maine. So I ended up shaking down celebrities’ parents, anything it took to really get me face to face with celebrities – kind of inappropriate – but when you’re 15, 16, 17, they’ll forgive you. So I got the cast of ‘Will and Grace’ on my show when I was 17. I was still on local access TV. I went out to Los Angeles, filmed them – first trip to LA, first time meeting a real celebrity. And then I created a business model that I still use a version of today, which is essentially a syndication business model to get myself on the air. Initially, it was on FOX affiliates, in Maine and New Hampshire, in 2004. And then in 2007, we launched nationally on ABC, after Jimmy Kimmel in about 40 million homes. And then a couple of weeks ago we just launched the new show ‘Late Night Republic’ which airs in about 75 cities nationwide, on FOX, CW and MyNetworkTV. So there’s been a steady progression up, in terms of how I got the talk show. No one just gave it to me.”
Michael Aaron Gallagher: “Where did the passion and the dream come from, to be number one and to do the show and to be the best at it?”
Jake Sasseville: “I came from a place in the state of Maine where the average person makes 15 to 20 thousand dollars a year… As I became aware of what was going on around me, I realized I wanted to create a very unique life for myself. Because I had seen people who loved me, and I love them very much, not live life in the way that I think they would have dreamed as a 15, 16, 17, 18, 20, 25 year-old. I wanted to learn how to create my own sort of life and be able to live this dream. So that’s where the dream really comes from, it’s seeing other people, and experiencing the lives of other people, who perhaps haven’t lived the life that they dreamed of and then excusing it for, ‘Well that’s just the cards that are dealt to you.’ You know how people say, ‘Well that’s just the cards that life dealt?’ Well, I think that’s only part true. And I think it’s a really wonderful excuse masking what really happened, which is that people didn’t have the guts to follow through with their own dreams. And I never want to be that person.”
Michael Aaron Gallagher: “You’ve traveled to a lot of college campuses. What’s your favorite part of the job?”
Jake Sasseville: “You know what I really love, is that a lot of people really don’t think that they’re funny… everyone in New York and LA thinks they’re hilarious, but outside of New York and LA, people don’t think that they’re funny. I love, love, LOVE, having people on my show that think that they’re inherently not funny, and then they end up shining. There’s nothing better. You know because you’re really able to make an impact that way. And I really appreciate that. And I have a gift for it, so why not use it.”
Michael Aaron Gallagher: “What do you think sets you apart from other late night talk show hosts on television?”
Jake Sasseville: “Well, I’m not polished. I’m all about spirit, not sophistication. You watch my show and you’re like, ‘Yeah, what did I just watch? There’s something I like about it, but I’m not sure what’s going on there.’ And yet we have viewers all over the country. So it’s one of those odd things where, unlike Leno, and Conan and Letterman, I don’t have a studio. I’m not polished. I’m not a stand up comedian. I’m a guy that had a dream that is taking that dream all the way – and that refuses to lose. That’s really what sets me apart.”
“I mess up. I mess up on television, actually if you can believe that. Some things are just not funny. It’s representative of our generation and frankly the world, where we’re all just a work in progress. So rather than having everything sort of keyed up and ready to go, like most late night talk shows, we’re really about the people, we’re really about building this republic. We’re really about deconstructing every piece of the late night talk show experience, from the guests to the wardrobe, to the music to the comedy to the producing to the segments to the pre-production to the post-production – deconstructing all of it and using a very unique crowd-sourcing model to farm it out to the republic (AKA the audience that watches the show). So that’s really what makes us different. Also, the other thing that sets us apart… Hollywood and New York and ad agencies think that our generation is inherently stupid. And I beg to differ. I actually want to treat people like they’re smart and intelligent people. Literally, you start doing that and things will change… I think the funniest people in this country are in the middle of the country. They’re not in LA or New York and I want to make my talk show about them.”
Michael Aaron Gallagher: “The entertainment industry can be a tough business to survive in. What drives you to keep going?”
Jake Sasseville: “You really know what annoys me? People who call themselves starving artists. Because you’re only a starving artist if you say you are. People don’t realize that the minute they start speaking a different reality… I’m a rich late night talk show host… it happens. I mean if you speak to reality differently it changes. So how do I survive in this industry? I survive in this industry by not calling it surviving. I survive in this industry by thinking in terms of abundance and love and joy. And that may sound all very silly, but it’s really very true. It’s the mantra that I keep going with. And it’s a very big piece of how I do things. I have a staff of about 20 or 30 people that work with me in various capacities, from my music tour to the TV show to my non-profit stuff, and I remember I actually made it so no one could come to me with a problem. If anybody came to me with a problem, they were fired. Instead, what they had to come to me with was opportunity. So anytime we had a problem, they came to me and said, ‘Jake, we have an amazing opportunity right now,’ or ‘Jake, we have a really big opportunity for a situation to deal with this afternoon.’ I literally would fire people if they said we had a problem, because that just drags down the whole energy of an organization.”
Michael Aaron Gallagher: “One of the most brilliant aspects of your show is the use of corporate sponsors and product tie-ins. How did you come up with the idea to utilize them and what do you think they offer to the companies that work with you?”
Jake Sasseville: “It is absolutely out of necessity that I have done this. Leno is not hawking products on his show, necessarily, he may have started. I know Kimmel has started. I like to think that Kimmel’s producers got wind of me and they said we’ve got to do what Sasseville’s doing, which is probably the truth.”
“So I created this business model… and I would supplement that with commercials. The thing is no one wanted to buy 30-second commercials, they wanted to buy integrations into the content. And so I said, how can I make that fun? And so we did all these things to try to make the integrations fun, and we realized it’s just very simple. Our generation wants authenticity. Our audience wants authenticity. And so we just decided to keep it very honest with people, this is how we pay the bills.”
“Then we’d do outrageous things, like with Overstock.com. Overstock.com had $2.95 shipping and I thought this was outrageous. So we filmed me calling Overstock headquarters (they did not know this) – filmed me trying to get the most expensive largest item that they could possibly deliver to me for $2.95, which of course was a pool table. Cut to the pool table showing up in my office… and then I returned it. It ended up as a one-minute integration piece. The audience knows this is how I’m paying my bills, the audience knows these people are paying me a bunch of money, but to make it fun and authentic, I think really clears up any sort of ‘Oh, I don’t like watching that.’ So it’s really been out of necessity. In fact, we haven’t had to do it that much with P&G, who’s our latest backer. They’ve done more with our digital PR and live events platforms. And the audience is actually writing in from all across the country saying we actually miss these integrations, so next season we’re going to bring it back. Because obviously it works. And we can have fun with it. It’s very funny that people miss it. I found that very odd.”
Michael Aaron Gallagher: “Who are some of the celebrity guests you would like to have on your show?”
Jake Sasseville: “You know I’d like to have people that have something to say, not something to sell. At the same time, I want people that get me real big ratings. When we had Wyclef on the show in the past and Rainn Wilson, the ratings shoot up. You want people that are interesting, but also give you massive ratings. I think that Lady Gaga should come by. Frankly, what I’d like to do is I’d like to have… I’m very ticklish… and I’d like to have a challenge on the show as a way to introduce Lady Gaga… a challenge where… I went to prom with a midget, when I was a senior in high school… And I think a very funny visual would be to see how many midgets it would take to get me to the ground by tickling me. And you know one goes in there and tries to tickle me and I throw her or him against the wall then two come in and three come in and then maybe it takes like 12 midgets to take me to the ground. And I think Lady Gaga ends up saving me, and that’s how I end up doing the interview. I think that would be fun.”
“I’d like to have Warren Buffet. I don’t know if Warren Buffet would get me ratings, but he’s certainly an interesting guy. Bono is an old friend of mine, so to have Bono on the show would be great. Oprah, I’ll probably be on Oprah’s show. It’s inevitable that I’m going to be friends with Barak Obama, so he’ll probably come on the show, just because I’ve asked him to as a friend, which is fine. Your boy Justin Bieber, I don’t really want him on the show, but I’ll have him on the show if he wants to come… Snookie, this girl Snookie, who’s very popular on the Jersey shore. I’d like to ask her about her religious beliefs. Because I wonder if this girl’s religious. Everyone’s talking about her hair and The Situation and all this – I don’t want to talk to people about what everyone else is talking to them about.”
Caitlin Engel (Jake’s publicist): “I’d like to see you interview Hugh Hefner.”
Jake Sasseville: “You know Hugh Hefner and I go back. His girlfriend – he has a new girlfriend – I forget what her name is, this platinum blonde chick, who actually wants to come to Japan with me. Did I tell you about this, Caitlin? Sandy Fox, my lawyer, also represents this woman, who is now Hugh Hefner’s blonde bombshell. She wants to come to Japan with me to launch the show in Japan. I think maybe when we come back, we’ll film an episode at the Playboy Mansion. It’s kind of been done though. I mean the people have seen it, but I’m sure we can put a unique spin on it. And then we could do like a Trojan segment, that would be good.”
Michael Aaron Gallagher: “Are there any charities you support or causes that are important to you?”
Jake Sasseville: “What I’m about is Philanthropy 2.0. Because it’s nice to support a charity, just like it’s nice to go to church. But if you’re abusing your wife after you go to church, it doesn’t really matter. It’s nice to support a charity, but if you’re not actually changing the world, if you’re not actually a part of that change, if you’re not actually on the journey, it doesn’t really mean much… So what I’m looking to create with my team is Philanthropy 2.0. What’s the next evolution of philanthropy? We believe that the next evolution of philanthropy is actually shifting the consciousness of the generation. The next evolution of philanthropy is getting people to combine action with real internal change. So for example, on our 15-city campus music tour, we have 15 college campuses. For every school we go to, we build one school in Southeast Asia. What does that mean? That means that the students at each university are being deployed to rally behind this cause. It starts before we get there, meaning before the tour hits their campus, and it ends in December. And the way to do it is to encourage and to be a leader, and actually shifting the consciousness of key influencers in each city. Alright, so you’re not just giving five bucks to save the children… you’re giving five dollars to a school that’s being built in Thailand, Shri Lanka, or Laos, and you’re providing the education for children, actual tangible real change. That’s what we’re about, that’s what Philanthropy 2.0 is all about. And you’re able to actually see the change, you’re able to experience the change and get involved in various ways as well. But it’s encouraging communities to support communities, not me at the top saying, ‘Well, let’s go, let’s go, rah, rah, rah.’ But really identifying those key influencers and then getting them to really get behind the cause or project.”
“The philosophy behind that is very simple. I don’t believe you can eliminate poverty (which exists in such a high percentage of the world today) by throwing money at it. What I do believe is that you can eliminate poverty by elevating education. And so our 15 schools alone, in Sri Lanka, Loas and Thailand this fall built by the kids on these campuses, our 15 campuses alone will impact the lives of one million children over the course of the next 20 years. That’s what the predictions are. That is real change. Because when you educate you actually elevate. That’s Philanthropy 2.0.”
In the coming months, Jake Sasseville is scheduled to make a cross-country journey to 45 cities on a promotional tour called Late Night Republic Roadtrip 2010. He will also be speaking at colleges and universities, participating in a 15-campus music tour with Jay Cole and We the Kings (sponsored by Pringles), and working on his upcoming book, which will contain anecdotes for success.
“I am in this to win,” Sasseville said. “I’m not in this to just, ‘Oh look at him, 75 markets… look at him with his little talk show.’ I am in this to win in late night, make no mistake about it. And I am putting a team together as aggressive, ruthless, filled with heart as I am (because I think you can have all three) that are determined to win. It’s very simple, really. I hate mediocrity. I hate when people settle for mediocrity. People in the entertainment industry, in general. I don’t want to be that guy.”
For more information about Jake Sasseville and “Late Night Republic” visit: http://www.latenightrepublic.com/. You can also find Jake Sasseville on Facebook or follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jakesasseville.
Jake Sasseville ain’t bragging, he’s done it
Copyright © 2010 by Michael Aaron Gallagher – All rights reserved.
Photographs courtesy of Late Night Republic
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