by Amelia Mackie 

“Is there any way we can get a picture of Bob Filner in the middle of a slam dunk?”

Eighteen people crowd together in a boardroom at the ROC offices in La Jolla and pour over today’s headlines—water shortages, social unrest and school lockdowns—with one goal: giving San Diegans something to laugh about.

Tonight in San Diego is a late night variety talk show shot locally and “broadcast” on YouTube. Although not the first of its kind, it is the first program of its format to focus exclusively on all things San Diego-centric. Think The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon meets SNL meets The Daily Show, all based out of the Gaslamp.

“I don’t really have time for television,” creator Fale Luis said.

Coming from the show’s executive producer it sounds like a joke. While he claims to not involve himself in popular weekly serial dramas and sitcoms, he uses his increasingly limited time to study the late-night masters. His keen eye focuses on the various aspects that he can implement into Tonight in San Diego, everything from production nuances to writing styles.

“I started on this venture a little over a year ago with a group of friends, a recording studio in Kearny Mesa, and a vision to create a unique showcase for all things entertainment,” Luis says.

From comedy to music, improv to man-on-the-street bits, culinary experts to cute cuddly animals, Tonight in San Diego is about showcasing the hidden and not so hidden gems of the city in a familiar format that really isn’t available anywhere else outside of L.A. and New York.

With an extensive background in live corporate event production, and a love for multimedia, Luis has combined his professional and personal skills to take on this daunting project. So far, it seems to have worked. The all-volunteer staff tripled in size over the past three months, and every aspect of the program has caught fire since the pilot was filmed less than 18 months ago.

Although it’s called “Season 3,” the show is a complete overhaul from the prior 30 episodes. The revamped show has a permanent home at the Horton Grand Theatre and has developed deep relationships with some of San Diego’s premiere brands, including FM 94.9, Belly Up Tavern and San Diego Reader. The biggest change is the helming by seasoned San Diego host Jeff Krapf.

“I see this show as an awesome opportunity to highlight America’s Finest City,” says Krapf.  “To interview some of the movers and shakers in the city as well as some of the most talented people on the planet who call San Diego home is really special.

“The most exciting part of the show is when the countdown begins starting at 5 … 4 … 3 … because there’s nothing more you can do to prepare. You have to trust that your team is prepared or can at least pull off something entertaining by the seat of their pants. Oh, and always check your fly … always.”

Every Monday night, the cast and crew leave behind their nine-to-fives and execute one of the most ambitious live productions in Southern California without the staffing or budget of a large network. This group of young performers, producers and writers are eager to entertain and showcase San Diego’s finest talent each week.

Joining Krapf on stage is stand-up comedian Jesse Egan, winner of the 2014 San Diego’s Funniest Person Contest. As a co-host, Egan spins the traditional “straight-man/funny-man” roles, delivering much of the humor with a wry charm.

“I got involved with Tonight in San Diego after I failed my audition for Today in Mexico,” Egan says with a regretful tone. “They heard my Spanish and told me to try out for a show with less stringent language requirements.”

Thanks to his success in stand-up comedy, Egan is a natural during the show’s live performances. For him, the real treat is in the creation of the wide-ranging content.

“I love the writers meetings,” Egan said, all joking aside, “[and] the process of creating the show from scratch, and putting together the final script with the head writer, Courtney Hale, who is incredible.”

Hale’s appointment as head writer was another major aspect of Season 3. She is one of few who have had extensive “back lot” big studio experience spending significant time with CBS. She brings an infectious energy that demands the best out of her writing team week after week.

“I love our writers room; it’s an awesome place to be,” Hale says. “Everyone in there brings with them a different background in comedy, whether it be performing stand-up, improv or sketch. … It gives the show a well-rounded feel. It isn’t easy to create and deliver a show all in the same week, but everyone is dedicated and excited to do it.”

Season 3 guests have included Channel 933’s Frankie and Geena, CEO of 2-1-1 San Diego John Ohanian, U.S. Olympic boxing hopeful Danyelle Wolf and Table 926 chef Matt Richman, just to name a few. Luis’ goal is to curate guests from every aspect of the city.

Ohanian says of the project, “The Tonight in San Diego show is one of the most creative, homegrown variety show experiences I’ve witnessed, where Jimmy Fallon meets San Diego’s best. The Tonight in San Diego team, while all volunteers, pulls out all the stops to make sure guests are taken care of like rock stars!”

Clearly providing the complete experience from top to bottom for audience members and featured guests alike is key in building the show’s reputation as “the place to be” on Monday nights.

“San Diego is so much more than good surf and burritos.” Luis explains. “We often are overshadowed by so many of the major metropolitans as being a hotbed for creativity. There is too much homegrown talent right here in San Diego that goes unnoticed. Our mission is to bring that to the forefront, all packaged in a memorable and fun experience that you just can’t find anywhere else locally.”

The San Diego music scene has always been a passion for Luis, and Tonight in San Diego looks to be the new way artists are introduced to the world. Season 3 has so far featured the musical talents of The Yes Team, Alexa Villa, The Mattson 2, Charlie Rae and more.

“I loved how everyone was very welcoming,” says Ruben Ochosa, lead vocalist for rock alternative band Misc. Ailments. “Filming for a production like this you’d think you’d run into some ingenuine personalities. It wasn’t like that.”

Like its network and cable TV models, Tonight in San Diego has branched out into other mediums. A weekly podcast is produced with its own set of guests that recap the show, and taking advantage of the online format, smaller bite size segments of the 40-minute show are broken up for viral distribution online.

A single photo, which captured a particularly unfortunate incident involving a disgruntled falcon and an unsuspecting crew member, was viewed on Reddit more than 1.8 million times in 24 hours.

Staff writer and podcast co-producer Meryl Klemow, who was on the other end of the falcon’s fecal wrath, says with a smile, “To be honest, I’m surprised I’m not more famous.” The photo and reaction were showcased in local media such as DiscoverSD Magazine, and Klemow spoke about being “Reddit famous” on 102.1 KPRi’s Morning Show with Chris Cantore.

Technical Director Andrew Steinman and resident DJ Teelynn are two of the original founding members of the show and have seen it evolve greatly since its inception.

“The most exciting part for me has been seeing how much it has grown since the beginning,” Steinman says. “What started out as a few of us discussing an idea has grown into something really special, really fast.”

Adds DJ Teelynn: “The most rewarding part of the show is seeing the creative ideas birthed during our writers meetings come to life on stage in front of a beaming studio audience. To see how one small idea pitch can change and grow as creative minds come together to make a really good joke or super entertaining bit out of it is truly exciting.”

Associate Producer and Luis’ right hand Natalie Kushner may have summed it up best: “This show and these people have changed my life. Being a part of a truly amazing team and building something from the ground up that strives to make people genuinely happy can only be a good thing. We work extremely hard to produce a product that we are very proud of and can only hope it continues to grow at this rapid pace.”

“I couldn’t agree more,” Luis chimes in. “As proud as I am of this show and what it means to San Diego, I am so much more proud of the people who this show is surrounded by. Great things are bound to happen when you have the type of talent and dedication that this team has. Our goal now is to secure more sponsorships to help offset the cost of putting this show on every week as it is a total in-house effort, and the more we prove our value to the community and the word gets out about Tonight in San Diego … who knows? We just might end up on your local TV around that 11 p.m. hour soon. Fingers crossed. … We’re looking at you, CW.”