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Emerson student’s street interviews turn into a gig with MTV

The scene at Emerson College is gray and bleak. Most students hurry along Boylston Street, but Quinn Marcus stands outside, unfazed by the cold October mist. Microphone in hand, the 21-year-old breezily offers, “Hey I’m Quinn and this is ‘Quinnterviews.’ Today we’re talking about the weird things your professors say.”

Quinnterviews” is what Marcus has coined her series of comedic shorts, featuring impromptu man-on-the-street interviews which now air on mtvU, a 24-hour branch of MTV geared toward college students. Marcus, a senior at Emerson, roams the streets of Boston and beyond with her cameraman, Tyler Weinberger, in pursuit of obliging pedestrians willing to chat. Conversation meanders under the direction of the quick-witted Marcus, who focuses discussion on everything from parent-child relationships to the best way to find a roommate.

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Her show has humble beginnings, materializing “just for fun” between Marcus and friends, who were attending high school in Atlanta at the time. Influenced by the banter of late-night shows, Marcus strived to emulate her hosting heroes, Jimmy Kimmel and David Letterman.

“I think they are amazing at it,” Marcus said of her late-night muses. “They make it less about themselves and more about the [subject], which I think is more charming. I try and do that, and really listen to the person I’m interviewing.”

Marcus honed her on-screen presence until she had perfected a hilariously blunt, unfiltered delivery. After three years of shooting “Quinnterviews,” she decided to take the project one step further. Last May, Marcus pitched the concept to mtvU, and shortly after, received a phone call worth ducking out of class for.

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“[mtvU] called me while I was in class and they wanted a video pitch about my personality and why I wanted a show,” Marcus said, pausing for sushi after hours of interviewing in the rain. “I just did a Quinnterview where I asked people what my personality was like, which I think shows my personality more.”

Having received both video submissions from Marcus, ­mtvU executives traveled to Boston to meet her. Marcus worked hard to memorize a formal pitch, but was halted minutes into her proposal — the network representatives were taken by the concept and immediately decided to move forward with the show.

“We saw exactly what you’re seeing now: somebody who is really funny, authentic, and relatable,” explained Paul Ricci, head of development and production at mtvU. “Quinn’s charm is that she is exactly who she is, on camera and off camera, and we know how important authenticity is to our audience. We liked her voice, her demeanor, and her attitude.”

The first episode of “Quinnterviews” aired on ­mtvU in mid-September to positive reviews, both locally and elsewhere. Marcus has been featured in publications ranging from Emerson’s own “Berkeley Beacon” to “Teen Vogue” and receives plenty of digital praise. One commenter writes, “this chick is killing me. HAH-larious!”

Marcus noted, “It’s kind of odd and cool, people in Arkansas or Arizona are like, ‘I love Quinnterviews!’ And I’m just like, ‘That’s the coolest, ‘cause I don’t know you!’ ”

While Marcus is smitten with her newfound role, it all comes naturally to her as she lives out her childhood dream.

“I wanted to be a cowboy. But [as I got older,] I was mature enough to actually realize that I was already a cowboy,” she said, laughing. “I love Dave Letterman, and when I was like 14 and I just remember [realizing,] wait I can do that! If I want to do it, I can do it. And now I’m going to.”

Hassan Ildari, an assistant professor of screenwriting at Emerson, recognized Marcus’s talent early on. “Quinn has not only a deadpan performance, but she has a deadpan presence. That’s what sets her apart: She has a supreme way, a natural ability which is more than just talent, to exude comfort. She just has the right combination of the right stuff.”

In “INCOMING, Freshmen That Is,” Marcus takes on Emerson’s new batch of undergrads on move-in day. Approaching tightly packed cars, anxious freshmen, and their families, Marcus begins her barrage of questions. After inquiring if a newcomer’s father is sad about sending his daughter off to school, he replies, nodding his head, “My baby, it’s my princess.” Marcus immediately suggests, “Well, you can get a dog and name her Princess.”

But for a headlining performer who’s so at ease on-screen, Marcus is remarkably humble in an interview.

“Brown hair, brown eyes: Quinn,” she said, describing herself. “You also wouldn’t know this, but this shirt is unbuttoned,” she added coyly, patting the denim shirt layered under a cable-knit sweater (a scholarly outfit she chose in lieu of her standard T-shirt, to fit more closely with the ensembles of the professors she was interviewing for the day.) It’s this same sort of humorous distraction that Marcus foists on her interviewees.

“This is where I become uncomfortable and I get weird,” Marcus admitted between bites of a shrimp tempura hand roll. “I think [talking about myself] makes me uncomfortable, and I’m actually just learning that. I’d rather you watch the videos and let them describe me.”

And so far, viewers are doing just that.

“Internally and externally, we’ve gotten nothing but positive feedback on Quinn,” said Ricci. Networkspokesman Jake Urbanski confirmed that while mtvU is not rated, “Quinnterviews” is the top-performing franchise on ­mtvU.com. Ricci wasn’t surprised. “We expected that. There’s no reason not to like her, she’s funny, she’s real and authentic, and she’s got a unique voice. When the cameras are on and the cameras are off, it’s still Quinn being Quinn.”

“Quinnterviews” is barely a month old on mtvU, but Marcus said, “It’s surreal, even now.” She expects reality to sink in this spring, when she’ll graduate with a degree in her self-made major, comedy writing and performance. And though she’s eager to move forward with “Quinnterviews,” Marcus is careful to keep a level head.

“Being able to do Quinnterviews as a job is a huge plus,” she said, “but I would be doing it even if I wasn’t getting paid for it.”

“I’m excited because I don’t know [what’s next]. Maybe move to New York or L.A. and just keep going. I love interviewing people and this kind of improvise thing I get to do. What’s next?” Marcus repeated, her gaze shifting to a lone piece of sushi left on the plate in front of her. Avoiding assumptions, but never evading a question, Marcus quipped, “Uh, I’m gonna eat that.”

“Quinnterviews” airs on ­mtvU Tuesday mornings at 7, with exclusive extras online at http://www.mtvu.com/shows/quinnterviews/.

Jessica Teich can be reached at jessica.teich@globe.com
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