Marc Petrosino's '98 company is responsible for Saturday Night Live's Iconic White House press podium
Meet the man behind the White House press podium. No, not Sean Spicer. Marc Petrosino ’98, co-owner of Monkey Boys Productions.
Petrosino, co-owner Michael Latini and their team have crafted specialized podiums for three of Melissa McCarthy’s viral Saturday Night Live sketches impersonating Spicer. In the actor’s first appearance as “Spicey,” she picks up their lightweight podium to intimidate reporters. The next week, she crashed their motorized “attack podium” into the press pool. McCarthy drove another, more rugged motorized podium in New York City traffic for a third sketch in May.
Collectively, the three sketches have racked up more than 52 million views on YouTube.
“We’re still a little blown away by the press we got,” says Petrosino. “All we did was fabricate the podium. The writers came up with the idea, and Melissa McCarthy ran with it and made it — and I say this humbly — a cultural icon. It was incredible to watch her work with it.”
The popularity of the podium caught him by surprise.
“The [first] sketch aired, we put up some pictures on Facebook and went to bed,” he says. “The next morning, CNN, the New York Times—everybody is suddenly talking about it. It was kind of a shock to us.”
Petrosino didn’t set out to run his own production company.
“I took the natural path of studying marine biology,” he says.
“Growing up, my parents were in theater, so my brother and I were exposed to that,” says the Auburn, New York, native. “I played with puppets a lot: I grew up in the era of Sesame Street and the Muppets, and I was a prime target for those shows. But I didn’t think I could make a living off it.”
So Petrosino went to Long Island University to pursue his second passion, science. It was his brother, Joseph Petrosino ’98, who told him about Ithaca’s planned studies (now called integrative studies) major. He transferred to IC, and designed a puppetry degree by combining courses in subject areas including theater, television-radio, and speech presentation.
“I’m very grateful that Ithaca has that program,” he says. “There are only two schools in the country, maybe three, that offer an actual degree in puppetry. Ithaca let me focus on what I wanted to learn and what else I needed to learn.”
Today, Petrosino comes back to campus to teach puppetry workshops for the theatre department. He values the access he had to theatre department facilities, and says he uses the experience he gained through hands-on learning nearly every day.
“The greatest resources I utilized while at IC were the professors and their knowledge,” Petrosino recalls. “Greg Robbins, in particular, was (and is) a font of knowledge, especially when it comes to theatrical design and history. The bonus was that he had run a costume and puppet shop in the Midwest and had direct experience in the field I was pursuing.”
After graduation, Petrosino moved to New York City to pursue work as a professional puppeteer. Among other highlights, Petrosino achieved that childhood dream of working with Sesame Street and The Muppets, and has also performed with the Metropolitan Opera for Madama Butterfly and on Broadway with Little Shop of Horrors.
“That was a blast,” he says of his stint as Little Shop’s Audrey II. “The biggest plant, the head alone was the size of a Smart car. To move a puppet that big and still try to get subtlety and emotion out of it was fun and challenging. In the finale, it would reach out over the audience and climb up and yell at the balcony, so it was like being on a roller coaster ride.”
In 2006, Petrosino co-founded Monkey Boys Productions with Latini and two other friends, Russell Tucker ’97 and Scott Hitz. (Tucker and Hitz have since left the company.) He still does his own performance work, but the company has become his primary focus.
“This past year we’ve been very lucky, in that we’ve been busier than in the past,” he says. “We’re hoping that it’s the old adage of, ‘It takes 10 years to become an overnight success.’ We’re at about that time frame.”
One of their latest projects was a 15-foot juvenile Tyrannosaurus rex for Field Station: Dinosaurs, a family attraction outside New York City. The puppet took six months to build.
“It was one of the larger projects we’ve done in house, both in literal size and business sense,” Petrosino says. “We had that whole moment of, ‘Wow, we made this.’”
Working with Saturday Night Live presents a unique set of challenges. The call for a prop typically comes in on Wednesday as the show’s writers start narrowing the lineup of potential sketches, and an early Saturday deadline to have the finished item in hand. That has meant late nights and calls for extra help, Petrosino says.
And there’s no guarantee the bit won’t get cut. SNL first approached Monkey Boys Productions with a request to use their Little Shop of Horrors puppets. That sketch was literally the last one cut that week, he says.
The first thing the Petrosino and his team made for SNL that went to air was a stack of files for a sketch where Alec Baldwin as President Donald Trump talks about how he’ll turn his companies over to his sons.
“We had to make a fake set of files that were totally light, because six stacks of paper and files weighs over 100 pounds,” Petrosino says. “The next week, they needed a guitar that looks like a slice of pizza, that could rotate like a ZZ Top guitar.
“The challenges and joys of SNL calling is, each thing is unique,” he says. “You never know what they’re going to call about.”