In order to find time to talk to The Diamondback, Justine Morris had to conduct her interview from a hallway while in the middle of a film shoot. When she first logged on to Zoom, she had to mute herself because she was working on a sketch featuring President Donald Trump and President-elect Joe Biden reading for the roles of Snow Miser and Heat Miser from The Year Without a Santa Claus.
Morris, who was the stage manager of Maryland Night Live and writes for the spinoff Maryland Tonight, was laughing along with her fellow Maryland Tonight collaborator Jayson Borenstein about the amount of work that’s gone into what was at first a novel idea: a Maryland Tonight Hanukkah Special.
Maryland Tonight’s first broadcast was mainly a take on The Daily Show, featuring sketches, man-on-the-street segments and correspondent pieces that blended comedy with political satire. For the Hanukkah special, the focus has now shifted past politics and onto more general holiday fare. Despite being promoted as a Hanukkah special, host and Maryland Tonight cast member Borenstein made it clear this won’t just be a celebration of the Jewish holiday.
“It’s a Hanukkah special, but it’s about all holidays,” Borenstein, a sophomore communication major, said. “We didn’t really want to make this super political or controversial.”
Those who watched Maryland Tonight and saw Borenstein as the show’s senior Jewish correspondent and his man-on-the-street piece “Goy Ve!” shouldn’t expect the same schtick twice in a row.
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“I wouldn’t exactly say that this special is a continuation of my piece that I did for the first episode,” Borenstein said. “It’s a little different from the first episode we did.”
Part of the reason why Borenstein, Morris and the rest of the Maryland Tonight crew decided on a special was practicality.
“We knew we didn’t really have really enough time … to put on a full second episode [of Maryland Tonight].” Borenstein said. “We’re not really making fun of the news in this one, and we’re not really doing headlines.”
“For some reason, I work really well under pressure.” Morris, a junior theatre major, added — as shown by her ability to fit an interview and live film shoot into one day, followed by a busy editing schedule that coming weekend. “The first week [after Maryland Tonight], I had my pitch. It was done.”
One of the major considerations for the creators was safety, and they had to make certain adjustments to make it a priority.
“It’s really down to what people are comfortable with,” Morris said. “It’s really important in any sort of art form, especially with comedy where you’re doing it for the laugh, you’re doing it for the gag, you’re doing it for the bit … in places like that, you really need to trust each other.”
Borenstein noted none of the cast members were expected to do anything they weren’t comfortable with.
“If someone is really not comfortable with doing a certain thing, we find a way to rewrite the joke or to make it work to everybody’s comfort level,” he said.
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More than anything else, Borenstein emphasized the desire to bring levity and joy to people right now.
“We really just wanted to make a production that could kind of make people happy and laugh during this difficult time,” he said.
Ultimately, the main focus for the Maryland Tonight Hanukkah Special — as with everything the team does — is about being funny.
“Maryland Tonight episode one was a great first time for us to figure out what we can do realistically with an online, completely virtual show.” Morris said. “We have a great cast. We have a great set of writers … We say that ‘We have a lot of fun doing it, so you’re gonna have fun watching it,’ and it’s a hundred percent true.”
The Maryland Tonight Hanukkah Special airs Monday, Dec. 14 at 8 p.m. You can find the link to the broadcast here.