Jonah Platt was on lunch break from rehearsal on the set of Jesus Christ Superstar Live! when we talked on the phone last month. He’s a 2008 College graduate and actor, writer, and singer. “I wear a couple different hats,” he said. Platt’s been busy since he was a student, so we caught up with him to discuss his career, his stint on Jeopardy, and his apparent dislike of Yoko Ono.
At Penn, Platt was the musical director of Off The Beat for all of his four years. “As the musical director there’s just no end to the amount of hours you can spend on it,” he said. “So that was by far the biggest time commitment.” He also filled his free time and summers on his own projects—writing scripts, working on an improvised musical group he started.
He lived in the TEP house, which was and is conveniently located just across the street from the Hemo’s food truck on 38th and Walnut. “Little known fact,” he said, “There’s a sandwich named for me at the Hemo’s truck.” There is pride in his voice. He received the food truck’s coveted honor for being a very frequent patron. Platt ate there every day for three years, ordering the same sandwich each time. “It started with me just going all the time,” Platt said. He made friends with the guy who ran the cart—so much so that they exchanged numbers so Platt could shoot a text whenever he was hungry. When Platt was a senior, the guy who ran the truck, John, put the “Jonah” sandwich on the menu as a senior gift. “Now there’s like six or seven sandwiches named for other people,” Platt said. “But we were the first. It’s a great legacy.”
Platt was an English major and minored in music and film. He said his favorite class was on the history of jazz with Guthrie Ramsey. “I got an A–plus in the class,” Platt said. “That class was amazing.” The class would see live jazz and Platt loved the course material so much that he downloaded Van Pelt’s jazz CDs onto his computer. “I have an enormous jazz catalogue on my computer that I got from the Penn library,” he said. “I still have it all.”
Even though music and performing was a big part of his life at Penn, Platt wasn’t sure where post–graduation life would lead. “It’s taken a lot of twists,” he said. The first job he had was a driver for Greg Daniels. Like, creator–of–The–Office–and–Parks–and–Recreation Greg Daniels. “I literally drove him to the office and to his house and I was able to parlay that into being a part–time writer on Parks and Recreation.”
Platt did a few more writing jobs, and then veered more into acting. He was a lead in the 2014 production of Hair at the Hollywood Bowl. That’s his favorite gig to date. It’s also where Platt met his wife, dancer Courtney Galiano. “It was the best ten days of my life,” he said. Working on Hair was also the project where Platt, a lead in a cast of A–list actors, realized “I can totally do this. I belong here.”
Shortly after, he booked Wicked on Broadway, where he played the character Fiyero. Most recently, he was in the ensemble of Jesus Christ Superstar Live! on NBC . Now, Platt’s pursuing projects of his own—he’s writing a musical adaptation of Lois Lowry’s The Giver and performing his solo concert in Los Angeles, “Jonah Platt: My Show. My Rules.”
If you don’t know Platt from his performing arts resume, maybe you watched him on Jeopardy in February. Sure, he didn’t win, but do you know how hard it is to get on Jeopardy? (Ed. note: It’s harder than getting into Penn, you underachiever.) Platt’s tried out every year for the past decade. “I’m just really into Jeopardy,” he said. “I’m very good at retaining information, and I like to know about the world.” About 400,000 people take the online test, and of those just 4,000 continue to the next stage. And then it’s an in–person mock game and interview. From there, about four hundred make it through, and three hundred are selected to compete in the show.
Platt was not pleased with the categories in his game. “They were terrible,” he said. “I couldn’t believe how hard our game was.” He got a Daily Double, though, and he bet a lot. Still, the categories were unusually tricky. “It was all, like, weird, mish–mash categories where you had to know a bunch of different things,” he said. It seems like there’s no hard feelings though—Platt posted a on Twitter with Alex Trebek where both are grinning and giving a thumbs–up to the camera.
Platt’s social media presence is idiosyncratic. On , he tends to direct some ire at Yoko Ono. One example is when Ono tweeted “Crying is an excellent way of bringing balance and health to your mind and body. Keep crying,” to which Platt replied, “I can imagine you whispering this in poor Ringo’s ears as John wordlessly walks out of the studio, never to return.” Intense.
“I don’t have a lot of love in my heart for Yoko,” he said, though still assuring that it’s all in good fun. He’s a big Beatles fan; he blames her in part for the band’s separation. “I like to give her a hard time about it,” Platt laughs. But also, “her tweets leave her wide open to being messed with. So I enjoy taking a run at her.”
Platt has been on a lot of stages since Penn—acting, singing, vying for Daily Doubles. He comes from a family involved in the performing arts world, but did he always know he would seek a career in the industry? “I don’t think I always knew, but I always did it,” he said. “And I loved it. It never really occurred to me to be like, ‘I’m gonna set out to do this.’ It was always just, like, doing it. And then I was doing it.”