Daily work at 'The Daily Show'

The Daily Show (The Book) is a compelling read. It presents the workings of a unique program in a style well-suited to the subject. This book shows the show during Jon Stewart’s tenure, yet it isn’t comprised of a host of comments by the host. Rather, author Chris Smith collects comments from a wide range of the show’s staff, and also from some guests and critics. The resulting compilation offers a revealing look at how multiple people worked together – some more, and some less – to create a singular comedy.

Perhaps one of the following excerpts will pique your interest in this volume. Together, these samples signal three of the book’s central topics, touching on how the show worked; how it was to work on the show; and on the work done by the show.

On how the show worked:

  • “During the Kilborn era, it was about ‘How can we seem like we’ve gone too far?’ With Jon, we went from creating the news – creating funny spoof headlines – to making fun of the news. That was the big change.” – Justin Melkmann, segment producer to supervising producer, video department, 1997-present
  • “[Jon] said, ‘Your targets are just wrong. They shouldn’t be people on the fringe. Our targets need to be the people who have a voice, and that’s politicians, and that’s the media.” – Kahane Corn Cooperman, field producer to co-executive producer, 1996-2013
  • “As we started shifting the show, and as we wanted to explore ideas a little deeper, we had to change the process.”  – Ben Karlin, head writer to executive producer, 1999-2006

On working on the show:

  • “And at the end of it all, not only was it an incredible place to work, but we weren’t making schlock. We were making something really good.” – Rory Albanese, production assistant to executive producer, 1999-2013
  • “I wanted the last ‘Born to Run’ riff to take everybody back into celebration mode...There should be nothing melancholy about it. It should be a feeling of joyous and raucous celebration that we got to be on the air for sixteen years, we got to be in the conversation, all these things that we never thought we’d get. We got to work with people that we loved. I wanted that last moment to be one of just pure joy.” – Jon Stewart, The Daily Show host, 1999-2015

On the work done by the show:

  • “I don’t think the world is any more absurd now than it’s ever been, or more tragic, or more beautiful. But Jon took advantage of these new ways of seeing the world and took out his magic marker and drew circles around the idiocy. He set out to be a working comedian, and he ended up an invaluable patriot. He wants his country to be better, more decent, and to think harder.” – James Poniewozik, television critic, Time, 199-2015, and The New York Times, 2015-present
  • “The Daily Show became a lens through which people looked at the news and the world that hadn’t been there before, and it also trained people, in this complicated media age, how to read and listen and interpret everything they’re being told.” – Judd Apatow, standup comic, writer

One additional note: listening to The Daily Show (The AudioBook), I must confess, was at first a somewhat frustrating experience for me. Mainly, I started out wanting to hear the individuals being quoted in the book speak their own words on the recorded version. In particular, I had hoped to hear (at least some of) the actual comedians, in order to take in each one’s distinct delivery and attendant nuances in meaning. Instead, voice actors deliver the lines. Their work is satisfactory, but this setup inevitably shades the content a bit differently. Nonetheless, it’s still worth it to listen to this book, particularly if you prefer audiobooks to printed works – just set your initial expectations accordingly. My own frustration lessened as I read through the book since it became quite clear that numerous factors affect and complicate any creative production, and particularly one involving a large number of people.

Finally, viewers of The Daily Show know that each episode ends with a brief "moment of zen." Fittingly, readers will discover a short explanation for the origins of this moment at the very end of the book. Here’s your "moment of zen" hint: it started with a cat watching the news.