Reality TV

by Katharine Reece MFA ’12

For most people, there's a clear line separating the fiction of television from real life. But for Mariah Smith '13, who has spent the last year interning for Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and Saturday Night Live, that line doesn't exist. "There's definitely a discrepancy between how we act in real life and how things are portrayed in television or film," Smith says, "but when it comes to working in television production or to acting, there's really never a suspension of reality for me in any of it." To her, the world of stage and screen is the real world.

Smith has spent plenty of time studying this world. (She says she's "passionate"; her friends call her obsessive.) Her father, a professor of humanities and African American literature at St. Louis University, believed his three daughters should learn from the media, so growing up, each had a TV in her room. When Smith and her two older sisters wanted to watch the Austin Powers films or Sir Mix-a-Lot's music video for "Baby Got Back," their father said okay—as long as they had a conversation with him about it afterward.

"We discussed the difference between how we speak in real life and how a certain character talks," Smith says, "and he helped us see that we can enjoy [things we see in] entertainment without replicating them."

Smith's exhaustive celebrity knowledge comes in handy at Saturday Night Live, where writers sometimes ask her to fill them in on little-known details of celebrities' lives in order to perfect their jokes. (This skill was perhaps less applicable during her internship at Sesame Street during her junior year.)

Though Smith's voice can still rise to a gushing falsetto when asked to explain her love for the boy-band One Direction, she takes her work seriously and hopes to pursue acting after she graduates. "Acting is about opening up different worlds and being able to see different things," she explains. "When I was little, I wanted to be a teacher, a lawyer, an OB-GYN. Then I realized if I act, I can do all the different jobs I want to do."

If she does them well, perhaps someone will be passionately obsessing over her in a few years.