Meet Devin Zuccherino, a student at Columbia University – and former U.S. Marine – who interned at the Daily Show this past summer.
A lot of people watch YouTube videos. No kidding, you say, but how many people watch those videos and decide to pursue an internship at one of their favorite channels? Devin Zuccherino, for one. While getting ready for school, the Columbia University student would often watch clips of the Daily Show with Trevor Noah and he decided that “it would be really interesting to learn how a show like that is developed.”
Fast forward a few weeks and he was skating around Manhattan while purchasing random props for Trevor and the team to use in skits. Throughout the 9am-9pm summer workdays, he discovered how much work goes into producing the hilarious Comedy Central show.
It obviously requires a lot of determination to pursue ambitious internships, and a quick glance at Devin’s background might explain how he became so driven: growing up as a dual U.S. and Italian citizen, he chose to join the Marine Corps after graduating from high school. “I saw military service as a transition from my adolescence and an opportunity to gain perspective on my goals,” he says.
On a pleasant December morning, we caught up with Devin at the Columbia campus. Hence, we are delighted to introduce you to an individual who can share a thing or two about success (happiness) and admirable goals (going to Mars).
1. What is your background?
I was born in Italy and have spent my life moving back and forth between there and the United States. My mother is a U.S. citizen and therefore, I have dual citizenship in both the United Sates and Italy. When I was six years old, I moved to the United States and completed grades first through seventh. I returned to Italy, at thirteen, completed middle school and began high school. Because I moved so much as a kid I developed the habit of traveling whenever I have a chance. There is something about going to a new place and immersing myself in the culture that brings me joy. I also enjoy staying active, growing up I played soccer with friends from my neighborhood, in the Marine Corps it was “mandatory fun” to work out and run the mountains and deserts all around the world. In addition, at Columbia University I joined the lightweight rowing team which consists of practicing twice a day six days a week!
2. What was your high school experience like?
High school for me was very different from the traditional student. In Italy, high school generally focuses on certain career paths and preparation to join the workforce as a contributing member of society. I attended three years of high school that focused on flight school, arts history and tourism and finally a focus on languages; English, Italian, German, Spanish, Latin and Greek. That being said, I wasn’t the best student in high school, I struggled to pay attention and would constantly get in trouble. I came to learn that I had ADHD so I had a very difficult time focusing on anything I wasn’t interested in. However, high school was a time for me to explore the various interests I had without any real consequences. I could join an after-school activity like soccer and develop a sense of discipline and teamwork on top of my studies all without having to deal with real world responsibilities.
3. How did you decide to join the U.S. Marine Corps and what was your experience like?
After graduating from high school, I knew I didn’t want to just begin community college. I wanted to do something different than the traditional high school student who would graduate and go to college. Typically, in Italy when a boy completes high school, he would go into the military for two years of service. All the men in my family had done so— my father, uncles and two of my three older brothers. In a dual cultural context, I saw military service as a transition from my adolescence and an opportunity to gain a perspective on my goals and plan for my future.
At seventeen, and with my parents’ consent, I enlisted. I felt that because of my travels and experiences I could transition into the Marine Corps, receive training and life experience and ensure I could pay for my education in the future. I was so young that I was fearless, even towards my drill instructors. I had more than my share of adjustment but I loved the brotherhood and camaraderie. I had an education in leadership and followership, and understood explicitly that “character” is who you are when no one is watching. I had the best “professors” of life as my battle buddies, and learned firsthand that our world is more complex and connected than I ever imagined.
When I was asked to be attached to an elite bomb disposal unit a month prior to deployment to Afghanistan, I accepted without hesitation. Perhaps, my youth played into that decision because I didn’t weigh heavily the possibility of death in the line of duty. But then, who thinks of his mortality at seventeen? I knew that I could learn and transition quickly to this new, dangerous environment. No other time in my life, to date, or do I imagine in the near future, did I or will I appreciate the significance of training and teamwork. As I transitioned back from Afghanistan I decided to become a Marine Corps Martial Arts Instructor and instructed Marines close combat techniques and leadership traits till I received an honorable discharge after my four-year contract ended.
4. How did you go about securing an internship at the Daily Show with Trevor Noah?
I was made aware of the internship via an organization, ACP, that helps veterans connect with people in industries you’re interested in. I would watch YouTube clips of the show on my phone when I would get ready in the morning for school and I thought to myself it would be really interesting to learn how a show like that is developed. So, I applied and had an interview in the following weeks. The interview was at the office and it wasn’t like any traditional interview I have been to previously. While I was being interviewed I had a dog licking my ankles begging to be petted.
They had a great working atmosphere, with pictures of various politicians and famous people depicted with funny quotes and drawings. They asked questions about my life, interests and experiences and other standard interview questions you would receive anywhere else.
5. What does a day in your life look like?
My day started with a 30-minute commute on my electric skateboard from the Upper West Side to the studio in downtown Manhattan. As interns, every day was something new. We had various tasks depending on what department you were in and then half way through the internship we rotated to other departments.
At first, I was in the audience department. It consisted of checking in audience members and escorting them into the studio. This was by far the best department because I was able to watch the show in the studio right behind the cameras. After the show was taped I escorted the audience to the exit and made sure the studio was clean. When I wasn’t working audience, I would go out in the city to buy random props that Trevor and the correspondences wanted to use in their skits. For the second part of the summer I was in the studio room which consisted of prepping the room for the producers to work in, as well as distributing the show’s script to all the departments. This was rewarding because I was able to see how the different departments worked and communicated with each other. No matter what department I worked in, we showed up to work at 9am and left right after the end of the show taping which was usually around 8 to 8:30pm.
6. What is one piece of advice you would give to those aspiring for success?
Be curious and jump. I had no clue what the Marine Corps was, I had no film experience, no rowing experience and yet with a sense of curiosity and willingness to jump into any activity I was able to be successful in all of the above.
Too many times I think people overthink what they want to do or research way too much about a certain activity, career path or school that they start to doubt their capabilities and eventually talk themselves out of it.
7. What has been your proudest moment?
I would say completing a 6-month tour in Afghanistan was my proudest moment. I had just turned 19 years old and I remember landing in the U.S. and receiving a warm welcome by families and veterans.
8. What has been your hardest moment and what have you learned from it?
I think transitioning from the military to college was a hard moment for me. I had completed 4 years of service and was completely immersed in the Marine Corps lifestyle to then suddenly have it all end in one day. I hadn’t written a paper or read a textbook in 4 years and math became a foreign language to me!
I had no idea what school I wanted to go to let alone know what major to study. Life was flipped upside down for me and it’s still hard today but luckily for me I had the support of my family and friends and I was relatively young (20) so I could go back to school and “blend in” with the students. I definitely learned to adapt quickly!
9. What is your personal vision for the future?
I want to go to Mars. In order to get there, I need to have a certain skill or wealth that is required to be there. I’m still figuring out what that is.
Some facts about Devin:
- The best advice he ever received was “Be better, not bitter.”
- He looks up to “Elon Musk and Barack Obama.”
- One word that sums up success in his eyes is “happiness.”
- As a kid, he wanted to be “a lawyer!”
- His favorite place in the world is “a large table with food, family and friends.”
Cover photo shot by Molly Meisels for The Glam Salad ©