I read books on my tablet while I walk my dog in the morning. He’s old, a slow walker, likes to sniff thoroughly, and will often take a rest in other people’s yards. I wasn’t far in to the oral history of The Daily Show when, for a changed, I was the one who had to stop. I stopped to laugh. It probably wasn’t the laugh they were expecting, but that’s life in Trump’s America. Various writers, producers and correspondents were reminiscing about how the 2000 election gelled for them what they wanted to do with The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
BEN KARLIN Bush, it will go down in history, it’s unbelievable that guy was president. Unbelievable. I’m sure, I’m 100 percent sure, in one hundred years, in one thousand years if society’s still standing, they’re going to say, “That guy was president? Like, what?” I know that to be a fact.
That’s a hold my beer joke. You say Bush is going to go down in history as the most WTF President? Haha! America 2016 says “hold my beer.” George W. Bush will get a footnote as the guy in the White House during 9/11, and who started the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I’m not going to make any pronouncements about Trump, I don’t want a future America to say “hold my beer” and come up with something worse.
I wasn’t a regular Daily Show watcher. It came on at a time in my life when I worked a lot and having cable or tv wasn’t important to me. Despite that, Jon Stewart and The Daily Show were an important touchstone for me. I became a regular consumer of Daily Show clips on YouTube.
Chris Smith’s oral history of The Daily Show during the era of Jon Stewart is very good. A lot of people get to have their say. My one complaint is that at times so many people get to have their say that I can’t remember exactly who is who.
Kindle books don’t take advantage of their potential to be multimedia. If any book was crying out for video clips, it was this one. Yes I know, licensing fees, blah, blah, blah. I did go to YouTube a lot to look for clips. I discovered that a lot of those clips have been taken down. Thanks Corporate Overlords! I don’t think you can get the full impact of Stewart’s Crossfire appearance just from reading a description, so I embedded a video, please watch it before someone takes it away.
This exchange encapsulates the tension around the role of The Daily Show. Jon Stewart felt like his role as a comedian on a fake news show was to expose the bullshit that goes on in the news media. Everyone else wanted him to be part of the news media. Tucker Carlson wanted to challenge Jon for not asking hard hitting questions of politicians, and then he wanted Jon to be funny. Jon Stewart wanted Crossfire to stop being a part of the problem. He wanted the news to hold politicians accountable and for shows like Crossfire to promote real debate rather than partisan yelling. Nobody got what they wanted. Crossfire was canceled shortly after the interview, but political discourse did not become more civilized or issue driven. It has continued to devolve into partisan loud noises.
Throughout Stewart’s entire run on The Daily Show, a lot of people wanted the show to be something different than it was. They wanted Stewart to fix what was wrong, but that wasn’t his job. That was our job. Maybe having Stewart on air made us feel complacent, but it shouldn’t have.
I loved reading about the experiences of the on and off camera people. Some of the people in front of the camera have become my favorite tv people.
JOHN HODGMAN For about three months there was a regular hang in Rory’s cubicle. O’Mallahan’s, I think he called it, and it just started to be Mad Men up in there. That was a very happy memory for me, telling John Oliver the difference between Scotch whiskey and Irish whiskey.
JOHN OLIVER It was not about Scotch and Irish whiskey. I like single malt whiskey and Hodgman thinks I’m a philistine for not appreciating the art of blended whiskey. And I think you’re taking a number of nice whiskies and then putting them together like a McFlurry and they become less than the sum of their parts. I remember a very militant Hodgman, who becomes more articulate the drunker he is and even more convinced he’s right. He’d say, “Try this,” and it would be fine. But it’s not as nice as a single malt scotch which tastes like it’s been kind of sucked through peat and fire. That’s like drinking a fireplace. Hodgman tried, over one increasingly drunk evening, to convince me otherwise, and if anything I’m even more sure of my view of his bland disgusting malts because they vomited out of my mouth later that evening.
JOSH LIEB Oliver, as we all know and the world knows now, he’s a peasant. He knows nothing. He’s a little child. It’s a fancy accent to our ears, but the people in England, they know he’s garbage.
I did attend the Rally for Sanity and/or Fear. I was living in Northern Virginia at the time so it was easy to get downtown. This was not my sign. I was carrying a friend’s small child and not a sign. It was a good day. I just wish more people had walked away from the rally and done the work to really restore sanity. I include myself in that.