There was a time when my wife and I were regular viewers of The Daily Show … and then we weren’t. It had nothing to do with not liking Jon Stewart and his show — we did — but more that we didn’t want to pay a cable television bill that included the Comedy Central package. And then we had YouTube, made for our short attention spans and social media sharing.
But I always admired how Stewart and his crew battled the bulls$#t of politics, and brought a fairly progressive voice to the mix. This new book — The Daily Show (The Book): An Oral History — is my kind of book (I am a big fan of oral histories), showing the genesis of Stewart’s vision for the show over the years as he found his voice (after taking over from Craig Kilborn) and how he used it with wit and smarts, shaping the way we talk about politics and share political rants and think about how the media plays a role in how we talk about politics.
Is that a good thing? Yes, and maybe no. “Yes,” in that the show made visible how a media outlet might respond to the “message” coming out of Washington. Reading over the Bush years and the wars it led us into, and how The Daily Show responded … it’s a reminder of how the Washington establishment at the time really dictated a message that most media outlets bought, hook-line-sinker. And “No,” in that we may have put too much weight in Stewart himself to be the “voice of reason” from the progressive arena, and where did that take us? Right into Trump. (I’m not blaming Stewart for Trump, although that might make for a funny bit on the show.) Trump seems able to harness the worst but most effect elements of Daily Show-isms to create .. Trump Inc. (The fact that Trump hates Stewart is another reason to like Stewart).
This oral history book is comprised of a multitude of interviews from many of the people who worked on the show over the years, and Stewart himself. Ignoring some of the soap opera elements that come with any television production (romance, debauchery, conflicted vision), the most insightful elements for me was how attuned Stewart was to creating something that was comedic and serious, and with a message that would cut the heart of a truth (which might be variable, depending on your political lens). Hearing the “voices” of writers and producers and researchers, and many more from behind the scenes, gives power to the idea of how something comes into being over time.
David Remnick, in a piece about Stewart before he left The Daily Show, praised Stewart for “punching up” — for taking on those who were in political power and being unafraid to show fire and anger and zeal, and to hold Washington somewhat accountable.
I really liked The Daily Show (The Book), and The Daily Show itself. It’s fingerprints are all over television and social media, and the ways we use satire and humor. But I haven’t even seen anything with Trevor Noah as host of the show since Stewart left. Have you? Is he any good?
Peace (each day),