Wow. I’ve never read a book in this format before. Instead of one author telling a story, it’s basically in a documentary format, with different people all talking about the same thing in a conversation.
It took awhile to get used to at first, but…I’m a fan. Especially in the latter half of the book, when I could place faces to names.
I caught on to the Daily Show later than most. Wasn’t around for most of the Bush years, but caught on a little after the writer’s strike while Obama was in office. So the first half of the book was really informative for me, and the later half was close to my heart since I remember watching several of the things they covered.
From The Daily Show with Craig Killborn to the Daily Show with Jon Stewart
I didn’t realize just how much the show changed from when Craig Killborn did it, and what Jon Stewart stepped into. They chronicled how they turned over basically *the entire staff*, and how it wasn’t really easy doing it. There was bad blood and power struggles, with people being forced out of the show. Reading about how the original producer was eventually shut out of the show and people throwing various bits of shade at her, and reading about her response to it all was intense.
But it did chronicle just how hard it was, and how the show dramatically changed afterwards, to emphasize Jon Stewart’s vision for the daily show. Results oriented, I know, but I’m glad it happened. I wouldn’t be the person I am today, and I wouldn’t passionately hold most of the views I do without it, and without him.
Switching the focus of the show
What the book really did well was to show how the focus of the show shifted over time. Jon Stewart’s early years were still mainly focused on comedy, not necessarily political satire. The book talked about how during the Bush years, the Daily Show was one of the first shows to start criticizing what it saw as outright lies and deception by the administration. It talked about how weird it was that the narrative in the country at the time was “If you point out our inconsistencies, you’re unpatriotic and you hate America.”
I specifically remember living that, and looking back now, it feels so weird to pointedly hate the Dixie Chicks for criticizing George Bush while in London, and to see how Toby Keith’s career was basically launched from super patriotic fluff songs.
So reading about the show’s internal struggles about whether or not to showcase the misinformation being given from the Bush and Cheney administration was extremely interesting. Especially the part where Stewart is recounting how he felt when he made the decision – how ANGRY he was that an administration would blatantly make up facts, be proven wrong, and then try to bury it and never address it again. And more than that, how angry he was with a press that he held partly accountable for helping the administration dupe everyone.
I don’t even remember feeling duped during those years. I’m one of those weird people who voted for Bush, liked Bush, then voted for Obama and loved Obama. Reading this book and seeing how the Bush administration did silly things like skirt around the definition of torture, blatantly make up reasons to invade Iraq, and then claim that anyone criticizing them was unpatriotic really sheds a new light on those years for me.
Anyway, what were we talking about? Oh, right, the book does a really good job describing the events that led to a shift in the Daily Show’s repertoire. It talked about how it first got correspondents into major political meetings, about Carrell’s experience on McCain’s bus, about how weird it was for the correspondents, who thought they were doing silly things in a very serious theater. But then to watch them realize that it’s really much less formal and austere than they thought. It talked about how the show started the trend of holding someone’s feet to the fire with clips of what they said in the past, with a poignant example of a fake debate between then President Bush and statements made publicly by Bush when was governor. I hadn’t even heard of that when it came out. It seems so hilariously sharp in retrospect.
“I mean, put this in your fucking book. I needed that fucking money and there was no reason for Jon to give it to us then. Jon hadn’t been given his money then, from the publisher, but Jon gave us our advances – out of his pocket, to keep us alive during the strike.”
So…fast forward to about the time that I started watching the show, which was around the time of the writer’s strike. I think that I originally started watching because someone had mentioned to me that the Daily Show was a really good example of what happens when you don’t have exceptional writing staff, that while the show was still good, it was noticeably less good with the writer’s strike ongoing.
Reading about how the staff felt, about how the writers went on strike while the producers and the talent stuck around was extremely interesting. Moreover, reading that Jon helped his staff out by paying them from his own pocket, a HUGE FEAT when you really think about it, is amazing.
But more than that, I loved reading about the divide that it created after the show came back on the air, and that still existed after the writer’s strike ended. Two of the main writers, David Javerbaum and Josh Lieb were on opposite sides of that strike since one of them was also a producer. Stewart talked about how awful it felt to be treated as the bad guy by his writers when he had PAID THEM OUT OF HIS OWN POCKET, and was the one that was going to bat for them with Comedy Central to try and get them most of what they wanted. And then how awful it felt after things got healed and how literally none of the writers said thank you at the time.
War with Fox News
Here is what Fox has done through their cyclonic, perpetual emotion machine that is 24 hour a day, 7 day a week – they’ve taken reasonable concerns about this president and this economy and turned it into a full-fledged panic attack about the next coming of Chairman Mao. Explain to me why that is the narrative of your network.
-Jon Stewart to Bill O’Reilly
One of the major takeaways I took from *watching* the show was the absurdity of Fox News. To this day, I still don’t understand how anyone can watch it, much less how it’s become the #1 cable news network. With the way it blurs the lines between opinion pieces and news pieces, how is anyone supposed to get news from what Stewart lovingly calls a “panic machine”?
But I digress. That’s not what I’m writing about here.
Much like on the show, in the book, Stewart really rails against how ironic it is that a network that’s slogan is “Fair and Balanced” is basically the most slanted news network there is. The book goes into detail about Jon Stewart’s interactions with the network, from interviews with O’Reilly and Wallace, to its relationship with Glenn Beck.
What I thought was especially cool was that the book got responses from people at Fox News and fit them into the chapters as discussion. They seem much more rational as people when you can see responses like the following. Well, except Glenn Beck. But whatever.
And that was actually one of the things I always liked about Jon’s show, is that yes, he mocked you, but it was mocking in a kind of disappointed way, like we should do better than that.
-Chris Wallace, Fox News
It was simultaneously hilarious and scary reading Stewart recount his meeting with Roger Ailes after a Fox News interview. Ailes started with “How are you doing? How are your kids?” which sounds friendly enough, until you realize that Ailes has never met Stewart’s kids and shouldn’t have known their names. The way Stewart describes it, it could easily be interpreted as a friendly but veiled threat against his family. WHAAAT? That sounds like a scene from a movie with an over the top bad guy.
Apparently that encounter was part of what lead up to the “Go Fuck Yourself” choir that is referenced on the internet as one of the Daily Show’s highlights.
The Rally to Restore Sanity (AND/OR Fear)
The book also went into detail about the Rally to Restore Sanity and the March to Keep Fear Alive. Reading about how it was originally supposed to be two events was eye opening for me. I remember seriously contemplating going to it back when it was was originally announced.
I think it would have gone over much better as two separate events, one with Colbert’s March to Keep Fear Alive, and one with the Rally to Restore Sanity. The juxtaposition and mock conflict would have presented a much more cohesive message. But it was better to have it happen than not.
It was intriguing reading about the difficulties with setting up the event, while simultaneously trying to cover the nearby primaries. I hadn’t realized that they never rehearsed it and that the script wasn’t given out until the figurative 11th hour. That’s amazing that they pulled it off.
What was extremely humorous was Jon Stewart recounting how people in Washington had told him his event failed because it hadn’t gotten people to vote more Democratic, since that was never Stewart’s goal.
The WTC First Responders Bill
And I was ranting to them (first responders being interviewed) about, ‘These fucking congressmen, they just want to go home, they’re talking about how nostalgic they are for Christmas and they can’t bear another day away from Tennessee or Arizona…” and Kenny Specht said, ‘Oh, you know we always thought it was an honor to work on the holidays, to protect people’s families.’
And I told him, ‘Say that. that’s how we’re ending.’
I remember watching the show and seeing this bill mentioned, but I never realized the scope of what was involved, or how dearly that Jon Stewart held it to his heart. I had thought it was just another piece about the absurdity of a Republican Congress saying that they love the work of people in uniform, but won’t pay to help the ones who need it.
Reading in the book about how much work had to go into getting the bill passed, how it was basically stuck and dead, and about how the Daily Show basically shamed Congress into passing it was eye opening. And to read about how they had to do it again 5 years later taught me two things. (1) Congress can be petty. Why would your bill expire in five years? (2) Shaming people publicly is actually a valid way to get things done in Congress.
One of the things that the book did especially well was shed light on some Daily Show controversies that hadn’t really been talked about, or at least that I didn’t really know about. One of these things was the reported argument between Jon Stewart and Wyatt Cenac, one that purportedly led to Wyatt’s departure from the show later.
It was something that I had kind of read about in passing and though “No way that’s true” when I had read that Jon Stewart had taken offense to getting called a racist after one of his more racial bits, and had kicked Wyatt off the show. The way the book described it, with people that had been there all giving their takes, really paints the picture well to me.
“I believe, to this day, Wyatt thinks he said ‘Fuck you, I’m done with you,’ and that is not what I heard. Jon started to walk down the hallway, towards his office, and Wyatt followed him, and they yelled at each other all the way down the hallway, into Jon’s office.”
It seems like it was a heated misunderstanding that really blew up more than it should have. Granted, the book is pretty high on Jon Stewart in general, but most of the people’s perspectives that I read in the book seem to paint Stewart in a good light.
But it was interesting, albeit in a gossipy kind of way, to read about what went down.
How Comedy Central fucked up and could have had The Daily Show and the Colbert Report through the 2016 election but didn’t
I still truly believe that had the Daily Show show with Jon Stewart stayed on the air through the 2016 election, Trump would not be President-Elect now. I have at least a few friends that voted for Trump that I believe would not have if the Daily Show had stayed in its previous iteration. Now, I’m sure some folks would argue that’s not true, that Trump’s absurdities would have reached those people through traditional media. That anyone who would have voted for Trump would never have watched the Daily Show.
But I know some people who voted for Trump that loved the Colbert Report, and felt similarly about the Daily Show. Having a father figure like Jon Stewart telling you that voting for Trump is bad in SO MANY WAYS might have tipped the scales. I love Jon Oliver, but he doesn’t carry the same serious gravitas. He’s more like your silly brother telling you things. Stewart and the Daily Show felt more like your father telling you things.
Trump didn’t win by that much in each of those battleground states. Having the Daily Show might have made the difference. And if both Stewart AND Colbert were on? Crikey.
And so it’s so weird to me to learn that the main reason that we didn’t have either of those shows for the 2016 election is that Comedy Central tried playing hardball a little too much in contract negotiations. Instead of being signed through 2016, Stewart and Colbert, disillusioned with the contract negotiations, only came to an agreement with CC for 2 years, ending before the 2016 Election. This allowed Colbert to take his new gig with CBS, ending the Colbert Report, and allowed Stewart to back out of the limelight by leaving the Daily Show altogether.
I won’t lie. That hurts. A lot. Goddammit Comedy Central.
What they (Comedy Central) didn’t do was prepare for succession. Probably over two or three million dollars they let John Oliver slip through their fingers.
And to learn that Jon Stewart had picked John Oliver to be his successor, but Comedy Central was so shortsighted as to not have signed him to some sort of contract to prevent him from going to another show? Sheer lunacy.
The book went into great detail about how Comedy Central really dropped the ball in negotiations with John Oliver to keep him around. Dropped the ball so hard that he was getting offers from other stations, like Showtime and GODDAMN HBO, to host a show with them. It was endearing reading about Jon Stewart’s conversations with John Oliver about how he’d be insane not to take the HBO gig.
Reading about his last day made me look up the last episode that John Oliver was a part of. The book describes it with an extremely emotional tone, and I couldn’t help but feel it while watching the clip again. It was amazing.
This book was. AMAZING. It started off rough for me since I couldn’t really place faces to the names I was reading, and I wasn’t involved much in the early years of the Daily Show. Plus, the reading format took a little bit to get used to.
But it got SO MUCH BETTER. The book was so good that it got me to look up clips of the show from years past just to see how amazing a clip was. And it really got me more emotionally invested in the show…a dead show doh. I went back to watch the last episode with Jon Stewart again after reading the very emotional remarks by all the correspondents in the book and it…well, I’m not ashamed, it made me cry. haha.
This has really given me reason to watch the Daily Show with Trevor Noah, hoping that it hits a similar stride. I hope it does, because from the way that Stewart described it in the book and in random articles I read on the internet, he won’t be coming back or doing anything like the Daily Show ever again. And now I’m sad.
2 thoughts on “The Daily Show (The Book): An Oral History – TwoMorePages Book Review”
wow. thanks, ensignlee!
Wait. Like for real Chris Smith? The guy who wrote the book Chris Smith?!?!