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From Comedy Central

News Headquarters In New York…


Oral history book about Jon Stewart’s Daily Show run captures the comedy, creativity and struggles that collectively produced a pioneering television landmark


By Michael Shashoua


No matter how much of a fan of Jon Stewart's Daily Show you were, it would be superhuman to have seen every single episode or have seen every key moment since 1999.


Chris Smith’s “The Daily Show (The Book): An Oral History as Told by Jon Stewart, the Correspondents, Staff and Guests,” published in November, captures great bits that still read funny years later, well past the currency of the politics they were based on. That's just the first of its attributes though.


The book, through its format of interspersed quotes from Stewart and numerous writers, correspondents and producers who worked on the show, portays the show's evolution from broad comedy to complex and cutting satire. Smith also captures behind the scenes intrigue from throughout Stewart’s run, including how that run came to an end.


Smith’s book starts off with emphasizing how Stewart’s Daily Show had to work to evolve from the snarky and broad tone it had under Craig Kilborn, the host for its first three years. As Steve Carell says, “Shooting fish in a barrel is easy.” It really didn’t fully jell until the 2000 presidential race and its aftermath.


Smith’s book also recalls, notes and describes how The Daily Show grew and changed with improvements in technology and media. By 2010, the show had made one of its trademarks its ability to juxtapose clips of politicians and officials contradicting themselves in different remarks. The show first developed these pieces by combing through videotape, then by running a battery of numerous TiVo recorders. Finally, and most adeptly, the show got its own custom-built computer system that could actually search phrases and topics and find them in auto-transcribed text of audio from news programs and talk shows. In the same way that “Breaking Bad” became improbably popular through the rise of Netflix binge-watching, this evolution of technology and media enabled The Daily Show to have even more impact in political and societal conversations.


That is interesting, but the book is not all sober media criticism either – there’s plenty of fun anecdotes about the show’s correspondents and personnel from over the years. There’s many examples to share about Stephen Colbert that give one a sense of his verbal and improvisational aptitude that is starting to fully flower again on his CBS show now. Just one example, offhandedly, it’s recalled how Colbert would call the Scientology hotline and discuss “Dianetics” in depth with them, in informed fashion, just for his own amusement.


Lastly, the examples of great pieces from the show that Smith gives, verbatim, on the pages of this book, are so well written that when recounted here, elicit laughs as strong as they may have when aired. Especially for Daily Show fans, having these bits on hand to browse is truly a great gift, and gives Smith’s book an added value beyond just the standard media and entertainment oral history offering like the ones done for Saturday Night Live and ESPN. Those works were pioneering in their way, but this takes the format a step further.














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© 2005-2018 Michael Shashoua