Q&A with Ishan Thakore ’15, Associate Producer
After majoring in public policy and receiving a Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, Thakore is now an associate producer for Full Frontal with Samantha Bee.
The following interview is from the August newsletter of the alumni network DukeJournos.
Since graduating from Duke in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in Public Policy, you have launched quite the exciting career! What was it like being a Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellow? How much time did you spend in Cambodia and South Africa, and what did your work there highlight?
I was very fortunate to be selected as a Fulbright-National Geographic fellow, and I learned a lot (and made many mistakes) over the 9.5 month grant period. My documentary project assessed the impacts of a large, apartheid-era dam in South Africa and the projected impacts of a newly constructed dam in Cambodia. Both dams promised great economic benefits, but in reality they disproportionately harmed poor communities while delivering fewer-than-expected returns. I interviewed around 50 people in both countries, and am (very slowly) working my way through the footage to make a series of short films. I spent 6 months in South Africa and 3.5 months in Cambodia, and the experience greatly influenced my career.
Outside of your Fulbright year, the bulk of your time post-graduation has been spent working at Full Frontal with Samantha Bee. You spent 10 months as a fact checker and researcher in 2015-16 and came back as a researcher in 2017, which eventually led to your current position as Associate Producer. Do you have any advice for DukeJourno members looking to make similar career moves?
I’m so glad to have ended up at Full Frontal, because I hadn’t even considered a career in late-night comedy while in college. For any DukeJourno interested in a late-night comedy career, keep your eyes peeled for job postings and especially for announcements of new shows being formed. It’s much easier to join a show when it’s first starting up (like I did) than later on, as there’s fewer open positions in later seasons. Internships and Production Assistant jobs are great ways to open the door into the TV world, and often lead to research and production jobs on shows. Also, it’s helpful to know that there’s not one career path into a late-night career. Many of my colleagues worked in print journalism, documentary, stand-up comedy, at the DMV, as medical researchers, etc. before joining Full Frontal. Since there are only a handful of jobs at satirical news shows, I’m happy to answer any specific questions DukeJourno members might have, and this DEMAN event featuring Dukies in Late Night is also a good resource.
What have been some of your favorite moments working at Full Frontal with Samantha Bee?
There are so many good ones, but my absolute favorite project was purchasing a house for a nonprofit named El Refugio in rural Lumpkin, Georgia. Lumpkin is home to a very large Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility, and I was helping produce a story about how El Refugio housed families who were visiting detained loved ones. El Refugio was based in a double wide trailer but was running out of space for visitors, and Lumpkin itself had only 2-3 attorneys for nearly 1800 detainees. We had this crazy idea to buy El Refugio a house so they could shelter more families and attorneys, and then TBS actually did it! We hired a contractor to gut-renovate the place and HGTV decorators to spruce it up. El Refugio was able to greatly expand their programming in a beautiful new spot.
I also worked on a small team to develop a quiz-based app to register voters for the 2018 midterms, and then another app to engage primary voters for the 2020 Democratic primaries. I also went to Hong Kong to produce pieces about the 2019 protests. There’s hardly a dull moment here!
What is it like working in television journalism as opposed to print journalism?
My print journalism experience is a bit limited to a handful of freelance opportunities, so I can’t speak extensively to the print world. But, there’s quite an overlap between research and story preparation in TV journalism and the background reporting that print reporters do.
TV journalism, at least for a weekly late-night show, affords ample time to work on stories, find characters and go in-depth on topics. I have deadlines and occasionally help make quick turnaround segments, but for the most part I have more time than say, a metro reporter or national correspondent who is filing constantly. Also, Full Frontal segments are a form of opinion journalism where we lay out an argument and a ‘take’ about a certain topic. As a result, the show can present stories with an unapologetically progressive point of view, in a way that a newsroom reporter would be forbidden from doing.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years? 20?
The pandemic has scrambled my ability to think more than 3 months out (is it still 2020?), and there’s so much uncertainty around the future of newspapers and cable television. With that in mind, in 10 years, I’d love to be making longform features focused around climate change for radio, television or print, hopefully in other countries once normal travel resumes. I’d also love to keep making funny stories. I literally cannot fathom 20 years in the future, but if the planet is still habitable by 2040, that’ll be good enough for me.