“Getting fired from Paramount was the real turning point for me. Because I thought that after appearing on Letterman, now I’m a made man. And the Paramount thing, I thought losing it meant I was an unmade man. I realized you still have to make your act better. The goal is to produce, the goal is to make things.” – Jon Stewart (The Daily Show (The Book))
Author: Chris Smith (foreword by Jon Stewart)
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Publication Date: 2016
Origin: I love The Daily Show (long-time readers know I get many of my book recommendations from the program). I love oral histories. Combine the two, and whaddaya got? This book!
Summary: The Daily Show (The Book) is an in-depth behind-the-scenes look at the history of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show.
An extensive list of contributors, cast members, hosts, guests, writers, producers, etc. describe – in their own words – how the show was made, how it evolved over the years, and how it came to be the comedic and political force it remains to this day.
My Take: This book did not let me down. I was eager to read it, for a few reasons:
- I love The Daily Show: the style, the segments/topics, etc. and was genuinely curious how they pull it off
- I love oral histories: they present so many distinct and often contrasting or contradictory viewpoints without someone mushing them all together in a false narrative
- I figured it’d be funny: a nice break from the heavy stuff I usually read
- Miscellaneous: books like this one are always full of interesting nuggets of wisdom, leadership lessons, etc.
And, well, I wasn’t disappointed: learning how the show comes together four days a week is interesting, and a little inspirational; seeing how it’s evolved over time, and the hurdles that had to be overcome to do so was illustrative; the style and contributors really made the whole story come to life; plus, as hoped, it had a few nuggets of wisdom.
Plus, it was funny as hell. Whether the humour came from reading about the circumstances surrounding the show or the background and behind-the-scenes for a particular segment, or reading the transcript of the segment itself (many of which predate YouTube, so are tough to find online), I was chuckling quite a bit.
As a related aside: Around the same time I was reading this book, I listened to The Satire Paradox, episode 8 of Malcolm Gladwell’s (very good and worthwhile) Revisionist History podcast; that episode had me feeling a bit glum, as it cast significant doubt on the positive effects of satire.
Personally, I don’t think The Daily Show fell into that trap, though, and this book illustrates why: The Daily Show was more investigative than satirical, more tell-it-like-it-is (albeit in a humourous manner) than reimagine-in-a-slightly-absurd-but-illustrative-way.
Read This Book If: …You’re a fan of The Daily Show or comedy, or need to learn how to produce an award-winning daily program.
Notes and Quotes:
- p1, highlighting the importance of always improving, always moving forward: (Jon Stewart) “Getting fired from Paramount was the real turning point for me. Because I thought that after appearing on Letterman, now I’m a made man. And the Paramount thing, I thought losing it meant I was an unmade man. I realized you still have to make your act better. The goal is to produce, the goal is to make things.”
“It’s so important to remove preciousness and ownership. You have to invest everybody in the success of the show, and to let them feel good and confident about their contribution to it without becoming the sole proprietor of a joke.”
- p37, on one of the nuances of leadership. You see, as a leader you’ll hear good ideas from people all the time, but without a vision you can’t determine which ideas are really worth pursuing; and, if you choose not to pursue an idea, then you need to be able to help people understand why, and the vision is key in that regard: (Jon Stewart) “It’s so important to remove preciousness and ownership. You have to invest everybody in the success of the show, and to let them feel good and confident about their contribution to it without becoming the sole proprietor of a joke. There has to be an understanding that that may be a great joke, but it might not serve the larger intention, or the narrative, of the show. You have to make sure that everybody feels invested without feeling that type of ownership.”
- p101, for anyone grappling with impostor syndrome: (Steve Bodow, retelling some advice he received from Ben Karlin) “The helpful thing he said was, ‘You have to realize you got the job, so don’t worry about proving that you should have the job. Just do the job.’ The second note, which I really took to heart, was, ‘Write about stuff you care about. Show us some passion.'”
“Jon is an incredibly thoughtful person and really takes pride in being able to deliver what he wants to say in a coherent and funny way.” – Ben Karlin
- p143, in the run-up to Jon’s legendary appearance on Crossfire (I’ve always admired folks who can remain calm and composed, allowing them to very clearly convey their message): (Ben Karlin) “I just remember being in the car, on the way to the studio, and talking with Jon. ‘This is the moment. What are we going to do with it?’ We were debating how to get into it, and Jon is an incredibly thoughtful person and really takes pride in being able to deliver what he wants to say in a coherent and funny way. The whole conversation on the way to the CNN studio was about how do to that – and how not to be sucked into being a little toy that they bring on for comic relief.”
- p165, on the origins of Truthiness: (Stephen Colbert) “‘Truthiness’ came from examining the behavior of punditry when I was on The Daily Show. I played a correspondent who had an ego and an agenda that was mostly preservation of his own status. That goes hand in hand with punditry, because pundits have to have status or why would you listen to them? Status has to be protected at all costs and you can never be wrong. The way to never be wrong is to not worry about what the facts are but to really go with your gut and what you feel is correct, because you will always be correct if you can name your own reality, which is closely related to what Ron Suskind wrote about in The One Percent Doctrine. He interviewed someone who later turned out to be Karl Rove, who is not named in the New York Times Magazine article where this thing started. A person in the White House, the Bush Administration, who turned out to be Rove, said, ‘You people in the reality-based community’…”
- p173, on John Oliver: (Ben Karlin) “You could see Oliver had a quick wit. But he also has that ability to deliver biting commentary with a little bit of a gleam in his eye so that it doesn’t feel negative or dark.”
“When you’re in charge and have the final say, you’re constantly rejecting people’s ideas, all day long, and it’s tough to do that in a way that keeps people really encouraged and positive.” – Judd Apatow
- p201…I really related to this bit: (Judd Apatow): “When you’re in charge and have the final say, you’re constantly rejecting people’s ideas, all day long, and it’s tough to do that in a way that keeps people really encouraged and positive. When I was executive producer at The Ben Stiller Show, I used to sit in my office reading management books trying to understand where the dynamic was going wrong. Jon, at The Daily Show, set up the exchange of ideas so people felt supported and believed in enough that they could really knock things around productively.“
“If your world does not include enough access to different people, and their world does not include enough access to you, you are speaking from ignorance.” – Jon Stewart
- p218, on the importance of diversity: (Jon Stewart) “If your world does not include enough access to different people, and their world does not include enough access to you, you are speaking from ignorance.”
- p218, something I can relate to as a manager/leader who often has pretty lofty goals: (Jon Stewart) “The general thrust of the show was just trying to get it done every day, and the reforming of more macro processes took far longer than it should have. That’s me. I’ll take the blame.”
- p366, just a neat story: (Jen Flanz) “In 2013 we were looking for correspondents and we were really interested in Trevor (Noah). Jon saw less than a minute of Trevor’s Letterman set, and Jon says, ‘That guy’s going to take my chair.’“
“It’s very easy to figure out Trump’s ideology. He’s Trumpist. He views the world through the prism of, ‘How do they view Trump?’ That’s all he is. His doctrine is the Trump Doctrine.” – Jon Stewart
- It boggles my mind – just boggles it – that more people don’t realize this, or are so unwilling to admit it, from p382: (Jon Stewart) “It’s very easy to figure out Trump’s ideology. He’s not racist and sexist to this incredible degree. He’s Trumpist. He views the world through the prism of, ‘How do they view Trump?’ If you view Trump positively, you’re good people. ‘Putin, hey, he likes the Trump, I like the Putin.’ That’s all he is. His doctrine is the Trump Doctrine. If another country is nice to him, he will be nice to that country. If the country thinks he’s an idiot, ‘Fuck them. That’s a pussy country. They don’t know shit about anything. That country changed its name from a Jewish name.'”
- p400, if you smell something, say something, from Stewart’s last day as host: (Jon Stewart) “Then there’s the more pernicious bullshit…It comes in three flavors: Making bad things sound good… ‘Patriot Act.’ Because ‘Are You Scared Enough to Let Me Look at All Your Phone Records Act’ doesn’t sell… Number two: hiding bad things under mountains of bullshit. ‘Hey, a handful of billionaires can’t buy our elections, right?’ ‘Of course not. They can only pour unlimited, anonymous cash into a 501(c)(4) if 50 percent is devoted to ‘issue education”… And finally, my favorite: the bullshit of infinite possibility… ‘We cannot take action on climate change until everyone in the world agrees gay marriage vaccines won’t cause our children to marry goats who are coming for our guns. Until then, I say we teach the controversy.’ So I say to you, friends: The best defense against bullshit is vigilance. So if you smell something, say something.”
- p402: (Jon Stewart) “We were never cavalier about the twenty-two minutes of television we had. We might not have hit it every night. You can’t. But I feel like we brought it every night.”
“The best defense against bullshit is vigilance. So if you smell something, say something.” – Jon Stewart