The Daily Show (The Book): An Oral History

the-daily-showI first got into The Daily Show sometime in 2002. I had cable TV for the first time in my life, and watching the previous night’s episode at 7 pm while eating dinner became part of my typical evening routine. Like a lot of people, I became more informed about my country and the world by watching The Daily Show, and I was entertained. Jon Stewart’s commitment to bringing absurdity and hypocrisy into the light was just what I needed during the Bush years.

In the years since, I’ve been an on-again, off-again fan. There were periods when I watched the whole show almost every night and periods when I’d just catch sketches that went viral. But my respect for the show remained even when I watched less. And as much as I appreciate John Oliver, Samantha Bee, Stephen Colbert, and Trevor Noah, I’ve missed Stewart this past year. (Also, Larry Wilmore, whose show deserved a longer run than it got.)

This book wasn’t quite the same as having Stewart back behind the desk at Comedy Central, but it was fun. As the title says, it’s an oral history, so there’s not a lot of pure narrative. The correspondents, writers, producers, staff, and guests all share their own perspectives on the show, with only a few bits of explanatory text sprinkled in. It’s arranged chronologically, so it’s not too hard to follow, although I agree with Citizen Reader that a little more context might have been useful at times. It’s a big book, and I would say that it’s longer than it really needed to be, but I’m not sure what could have been cut, since every fan probably has a different favorite period.

For myself, I was most interested in stories about how the different correspondents came to be part of the show and stories of specific well-known segments (like John Oliver’s three-part gun control series). I also liked hearing about some of the ways the show’s approach to its stories evolved over the years, although as a viewer, I can’t say that I noticed some of the shifts they were talking about. Perhaps they happened too gradually to see.

The one change I did see was the effort to bring on a more diverse group of correspondents in the Stewart’s last years. That is discussed in the book, as is the conflict between Stewart and Wyatt Cenac that made the news near the end of Stewart’s tenure. In this case, as in several others, the different people involved don’t always recall or interpret events in the same way, and the oral history approach means that we just get to hear all their views without having an author weighing in.

I was left with some questions about the role of women on the show. It’s described several times in the book as a boy’s club, although there were several women who had positions of authority behind the scenes. But I can’t help but remember that the show typically only has one or two regular correspondents who are women, and almost all of those women have been white. It’s a show that could do better, and I’m glad that Samantha Bee has her own show now that’s filled with funny women. (Larry Wilmore’s Nightly Show also excelled in including women.)

Overall, I enjoyed reading this. I liked hearing from these people who entertained and enlightened me over the years, and there were some great behind-the-scenes moments. I loved learning how the writers pulled together the many clips they used and how that process evolved over time. (The beginning of Tivo was a big deal.) I skimmed some sections that focused on shifts in the writing and producing staffs, but the rest held my interest. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this book for the casual viewer, but as someone who’s between a casual viewer and a hard-core fan, this was a good read.

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6 Responses to The Daily Show (The Book): An Oral History

  1. writerrea says:

    I’m totally missing Stewart during this election, perhaps more so than any other past late night host. I liked Wilmore, but the format of his show was problematic. The panels often devolved into people talking over each other, and I couldn’t understand what they said. I even turned on closed captioning, and often the captions just said “indistinct talking.” I get that he was trying to do something different from the other late night formats, but that part didn’t work. A shame, because his segments on his own were often brilliant.

    • Teresa says:

      I agree about Larry Wilmore’s panel discussions. I enjoyed some of them, and I loved that he brought so many different voices to the table, but the conversations did sometimes get out of control. It might have been better as a weekly feature. But his segments on his own were so good that I didn’t care if the panels were duds.

  2. You know, I can’t decide if I want to spend my time going back to this book (missed the part on Oliver’s gun-control series; would have enjoyed that) or watching a couple of Daily Shows starring Trevor Noah. I feel like I haven’t given him a fair chance. But I can’t help it. I MISS Stewart, the old grumplepuss.

    • Teresa says:

      Noah has done some good stuff, but I think Sam Bee and John Oliver are more consistent. I’ve also been really enjoying Seth Meyers’s A Closer Look segments. But Noah’s interview with Tomi Lahren is worth watching. But I still miss Stewart. This book reminded me how great he was at calling out falsehoods in the run-up to the Iraq war.

  3. buriedinprint says:

    Isn’t it funny how certain viewing rituals come to be associated with specific eras in our lives, like reading a certain book when something major happens – the memories become attached, markers of a sort. I’m only a casual viewer myself, mainly because I don’t follow US politics consistenly closely – that might be changing now – but this still sounds interesting to me!

    • Teresa says:

      Yes, I link Stewart to the George W. Bush presidency and probably always will. He was so great at picking about was Bush was up to. I watched him less during the Obama era, even though he was doing some good stuff then, too.

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