Before Charlie Baker ’17 takes the stage as the host of Princeton’s monthly late-night talk show, he frantically runs through his lines, herds the theater’s previous audience out so his crew can set up, and fixes malfunctioning equipment. And he worries.
But as the lights come up, he trots onstage to greet his audience, leaving the nerves and chaos behind.
Baker is the host of All-Nighter with Charlie Baker. He delivers his opening monologue smoothly, making clever jokes about politics and news events, conducts lively interviews with student and faculty guests, and keeps the show moving.
“When it ends, it feels like no time has gone by at all,” says Baker, who comes from a “super creative family.”
His mother writes children’s books and novels and his father has acted and does comedy and performance art at clubs in Greenwich Village in New York City. They encouraged him from a young age to pursue his artistic passion. And they’re in the audience cheering him on at every show.
Drawn to the Spotlight
Baker studied drama at Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music and Art and Performing Arts in New York City (celebrated in the movie Fame) and appeared in several TV commercials as a teenager. While a lot of his LaGuardia friends headed to conservatories, Baker—who was salutatorian of his high school class—knew he wanted to get a liberal arts education. Princeton seemed an ideal choice.
He and his parents had frank discussions: he needed to get into a college with generous financial aid, or they couldn’t afford it. When his Princeton financial aid package arrived, he thought, “Oh my gosh, this is actually going to happen!”
“Being able to come to Princeton and not worry about money is the biggest gift of my life,” says Baker, a recipient of the Barry S. Friedberg ’62 Scholarship.
Doing What You Love
A German culture and politics major who is earning a certificate in theater, Baker jumped into the arts scene the first week of his freshman year, joining Quipfire!, Princeton’s improv comedy troupe. “The first year or two in Quipfire! I would get paralyzed with fear before going on stage without a script,” he says.
But that experience has helped him become a more confident performer, whether as the lead in his senior thesis production of Kenneth Lonergan’s play Lobby Hero, making people laugh at All-Nighter, or strumming his guitar.
A budding singer-songwriter, he performs solo, with the folk duo Baker & Goods, and with the indie rock band St. Danger. He often plays a song he helped write sophomore year for the course “How to Write a Song,” taught by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and Professor of Creative Writing Paul Muldoon, Princeton’s Howard G. B. Clark ’21 University Professor in the Humanities. Charlie had turned 20 and the lyric “no longer 19” became the germ for a tune about growing up and not wanting to spend the rest of your life doing something you don’t like.
“That song has become a life mantra,” says Baker. “It helps me remember what I want to do.”
He has integrated his interest in theater with his work in the German department. Last summer he traveled to Berlin to conduct research for his senior thesis on Bertolt Brecht’s play, Mother Courage and Her Children, and his theories of political theater.
He spent his days in Brecht’s archive, viewing film footage of his plays and examining books about them. At night he watched contemporary productions of Brecht's work by the theater company he founded, the Berliner Ensemble.
“I came to Berlin with only rudimentary knowledge of one or two of Brecht’s plays and left with a thorough understanding of almost his entire canon,” said Baker.
After Baker graduates, he plans to return to his family's small warehouse-turned-apartment to make a go of acting, comedy, and music. His dream job: talk show host.
“I feel so lucky that I don’t have to get a job doing something that I don’t want to do to pay off student loans,” says Baker, who is graduating with no debt. “Instead, I get to pursue what I love.”
Watch Baker's All-Nighter opening monologue:
Listen to his folk duo, Baker & Goods, perform a song he wrote:
For information about scholarships at Princeton, contact Jim O'Boyle, associate director for leadership gifts, at 609.258.1782.