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
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
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.