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The Daily Show (The Book): An Oral History as Told by Jon Stewart, the Correspondents, Staff and Guests

Review

The Daily Show (The Book): An Oral History as Told by Jon Stewart, the Correspondents, Staff and Guests

A behind-the-scenes look at a major television production during the ascension and reign of its most famous host to date, THE DAILY SHOW (THE BOOK) gives the real scoop from those who have been there for the past 16 years.

In Jon Stewart's foreword to author Chris Smith's oral history, he would have us believe that he just stumbled in off the street at a low point in his career and was offered the job of host of the now well-enshrined satirical news show, out of the blue. But there is more to Stewart's art than he self-deprecatingly allows, as evidenced by the fact that in his decade-and-a-half stint with “The Daily Show,” the production garnered 22 Emmys and attracted such wildly different personalities to its stage as Pakistan's President, Pervez Musharraf, to give rare insight from the Muslim perspective, and Fox News darlings Glenn Beck and Bill O'Reilly to play opposing-view ping-pong with Stewart.

"Smith presents the life story of a satirical news program that started out funny, became funnier, and finally became not only newsworthy but an information source in itself."

Commenting wryly on well-chosen pompous pronouncements from the mainstream media, Stewart manned the helm of Comedy Central’s creation, sailing the airwaves and making light of the news in a dark sort of way. The show took on everything that the era threw at it: national elections, 9/11 and its many reverberations, wars, rumors of wars (one such dubbed, unforgettably, "Mess O'Potamia"), a “muppet" named Gitmo, and a couple of gay penguins. 

Smith, a contributing editor at New York, presents a gold mine of “Daily Show” lore in disjointed clumps. There are the times ("Indecision 2004 -- Crasstastic!") and the issues ("The Amazing Racism.") There are segments about the internal politics of the show itself --- strikes, contracts, deals, who signed what and why --- that may be of interest only to hardcore fans. The author has included the recollections of the show's writers, observers and critics, and some of its most famous guests, like politician John McCain, news personality Tucker Carlson, even pro-wrestler Mick Foley.

Bits from the show --- typically a quick flash of a politician or newscaster saying something that, while sane enough in context, is easy fodder for Stewart’s quirky, ironic, sometimes expletive-laden responses --- illustrate the “Daily Show” ethos that almost no topic is sacred if humor can be made of it. But also, and importantly, Stewart asks, "Why would you not take an opportunity to find, within someone's humanity, some understanding of why they've done what they've done, of why you believe so differently from what they believe?" TV critic James Poniewozik says that the show "changed television" by demonstrating that comedy could express a strong point of view. Staff intern-turned-writer Lauren Sarver Means recalls that there was always "catharsis" in the sketches designed for the program. Despite the typically cynical take on just about everything, the writers didn't like to present problems unless some hint at a positive solution was woven into the skit.

Having risen from the ranks of the “creatively unmoored” (his words) to a national news comedy icon, Stewart looks back on that part of his professional life as 22-minute segments of opportunity. In this collective memoir, Smith presents the life story of a satirical news program that started out funny, became funnier, and finally became not only newsworthy but an information source in itself.

Reviewed by Barbara Bamberger Scott on December 8, 2016

The Daily Show (The Book): An Oral History as Told by Jon Stewart, the Correspondents, Staff and Guests
by Chris Smith

  • Publication Date: November 22, 2016
  • Genres: Entertainment, History, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • ISBN-10: 1455565385
  • ISBN-13: 9781455565382