A WRITER'S WIT
My Book World
For those who watched Comedy Central’s The Daily Show for many years, this book is a joy to read. It allows one to revel in its hallmark moments, following the script as you remember watching it. As the title suggests, a panoply of people, in short bursts, tell this story. Smith has done an admirable job (à la George Plimpton in his biographies of Edie Sedgwick and Truman Capote) of threading together this massive narrative by way of individual recollections, sometimes contradicting or engaging one another, as one might do at a table reading of a script. Below I list but a few nuggets gleaned from the text.
Rory Albanese (executive producer):
“The root of every Daily Show script, like the root of any good sitcom script or any story, is a narrative arc. This is another Jon Stewart-ism: ‘The jokes are easy. We’ve got a lot of funny people. We’ll get the jokes. You know what’s hard? Why the fuck are we talking about this, and what are we saying about it? What’s the arc? What is the essay that we’re structuring?’” (59).
Jon Stewart (star of Daily Show):
“Can I tell you the craziest thing? Tracey and I were walking that afternoon of 9/11, or it might have been the next day, in just the quiet of it. We didn’t really know where we were going, just walking, and we walked by a building and there was a little street mouse, I don’t even think it was a rat, a little street mouse. All of a sudden a dude—I guess it was the super in the building, we hadn’t seen him—fucking clubbed it right in front of us. I remember us just both bursting into tears, and we just kind of like . . . I just remember us bursting into tears on a constant basis, as everybody was. The smell is the things that I’ll never forget, just that was . . .” (72).
James Dixon (Stewart’s manager):
“‘Jon Always said, ‘I don’t need to be on a broadcast network to validate myself. I’ll do what I do for basic cable, and if I do it well it won’t matter where I do it from. That will be my legacy’” (85).
Ben Karlin (head writer and executive producer):
“It felt like we were crazy. How could we be the only people who were recognizing this ridiculous disparity? It became one of the signature things for the show to find these quotes and have people contradicting their own words, but in the early stages it felt pretty novel to do something like that so vividly with one person” (109).
Rakesh Agrawal (founder, SnapStream):
“What we invented was a unit that connects to a company’s computer server. One of them can record up to ten television shows at a time. The recordings you make can be watched on the network, from any desktop inside an organization, by multiple people at the same time. But for The Daily Show, the point is not really about watching TV. We translated the TV audio into text, and made it possible to search inside shows” (259).
“The original notion was to stage dueling rallies, with [Stephen] Colbert leading ‘The March to Keep Fear Alive.’ Instead it was merged into a single event, ‘The Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear.’ What never changed was the intention that Stewart announced on The Daily Show, to put on a pageant for noncrazy, non-book-and-flag-burning, nonscreaming America: ‘Not so much the Silent Majority as the Busy Majority.’ In other words, a plea for rationality in an increasingly irrational political and media landscape, a reminder that there’s a distinction between ‘political’ and ‘partisan.’ Plus Colbert in an Evel Knievel jumpsuit” (261).
Jessica Williams (correspondent, 2012-2016):
“But the first few months were really tough. The Daily Show, it had been on for a while, and I think people can be very possessive of the show. When I first started, I got . . . you know just . . . you know the negative racial comments in my inbox. You do anything that ruffles a few feathers on the show, there’s always going to be some racist dude ready to like call you a nigger, you know? I think a lot of it has to do with people just being really stupid . . . . At that time, it really bothered me a lot. Now, either I get it less or I just don’t give a shit anymore” (324).
“[Lewis] Black’s segments could still be wildly funny tangents about, say, artisanal crystal meth or the need for a Trump 2012 presidential campaign (‘This is what I’ve been waiting for my whole life, a president who’s not afraid to tell the truth about being a lying asshole!’), but over the years many of Black’s rants were vein-bulging exclamation points to The Daily Show’s main themes” (329).
“So we also did a longer piece partly about how Fox [Network] was ‘outraged’ that Ferguson [Missouri] was being cast in racial terms. And I talked about how we’d recently sent a producer, Stu Miller, who was dressed like a homeless elf with a week’s worth of five o’clock shadow, and a correspondent, Michael Che, dressed in a tailored suit, out to do an interview—and how it was Che who got stopped by security. The point being, here’s how ubiquitous racism and indignity is. To Michael, this wasn’t ‘You’re not going to fucking believe what happened.’ It came up in the course of the conversation about other things. That’s what I meant in the piece when I said, ‘You’re tired of hearing about racism? Imagine how fucking exhausting it is living it” (351).
Ramin Hedayati (studio production, field producer):
“It became the first of the three big pizza rants—the other two were about Chicago deep dish, and then Mayor [Bill] de Blasio eating pizza with a fork. And they were funny and really silly. But they were also great illustrations of the show’s process.
Jon was all about the passion. He always said, ‘We need to make sure we’re channeling our emotions. What do we find joyous? What makes us have a strong emotional reaction? If something makes you angry, why? Bring that to the idea. If something’s just purely fun, let’s just have fun with it.’ He wants us to be writing to, and pitching to, that strong feeling. Plenty of times it’s outrage about something serious. But we don’t need to do the congressional takedown every night” (381).
“And this, this, is their genius. Conservatives are not looking to make education more rigorous and informative, or science more empirical or verifiable, or voting more representative, or the government more efficient or effective. They just want all those things to reinforce their partisan, ideological, conservative viewpoint” (383).