29 July 2014

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In going to see The Daily Show With Jon Stewart today I soon realised that The Colbert Report a fortnight ago had inhaled all the excitement at the newness of the experience, leaving me with more restless anticipation for *The Daily Show* than bouncing off the walls. At the same time I had learned from my previous experience and turned up to to *The Daily Show* studio better prepared with a bottle of water, a bagel, and a book to pass the time. My sibling couldn't believe I was going to line up two and a half hours early, but as it turn out I wasn't even the craziest - even that early there were already people queuing ahead of me.

The outdoor waiting area for The Daily Show isn't as comfortable as The Colbert Report. Whereas The Colbert Report has you waiting alongside the building off the street and under shelter, The Daily Show queue is on the busy sidewalk of busy 11th Avenue. Getting there as early as I did I managed to sit against the wall in the shade of the overhang and the 'Abandon News All Ye Who Enter Here' sign, which in summer wasn't too bad but I imagine would be rather unpleasant in snowy winter. As the clock ticked down the queue numbers went up until the queue stretched to the end of the block and doubled back in on itself.

Eventually and much to everyone's relief (with the exception of the people anxiously hovering on standby) the tickets were given out (my ticket: number 8) and we were filed through security into the waiting room. It's smaller than the waiting room at The Colbert Report a block away, and more stark, with the decorations being pictures of the correspondents and show alumni in some of the more hilarious costumes they've used for pieces: Jon Stewart in a fat-suit, John Oliver as a Dickensian chimney-sweep, Jason Jones as a mariachi, Samantha Bee as a banana. (There's also an audience Release sign, notice of which is given before you enter the studio, and which I had great fun reading.) The Daily Show waiting room is also smaller than the one at The Colbert Report, so if you're holding a ticket above 40 you have to wait outside.

Size goes the other way inside The Daily Show studio which fits about 240 people, more than double the capacity of The Colbert Report. My seating luck didn't correspondingly increase, and despite having ticket number 8 I ended up sitting in the middle of the fourth row of the middle block, with a great line of sight to the desk. Unlike The Colbert Report, you are allowed to take photos inside The Daily Show studio to your heart's content inside as long as you stay in your seat. No going onto the set, and definitely no sitting at Jon's desk for a selfie (there went that idea for a new Facebook profile picture).

The format of the tapings is by and large the same. Once we were all seated a studio crew member came out to welcome us and run through the audience dos and don'ts (no photography during taping, turn off all cellphones, laugh and cheer loudly, etc). Following her was the warm-up comedian who much to my amusement was the same comedian from The Colbert Report warm-up - it's easy enough for him to do both shows since the studios are literally around the corner from each other. His routine was the same as before, and he had some fun with some Canadians in the audience before he got us cheering for Jon Stewart to come out on set.

Jon Stewart really is as short as various sketches and jokes have made him out to be. He just walks onto the set, no running out seeking high-fives the way Stephen Colbert does, and picks up the mic getting straight to business welcoming the audience and taking questions. Kudos to me, I managed to get his attention to ask the first question. I said I'm from Australia, we love the show - he asked how I watch the show in Australia and I answered I watch the clips on The Daily Show website (The Daily Show and The Colbert Report aren't licensed in Australia other than on cable TV that hardly anyone uses, and I certainly wasn't going to say Australians torrent the show) - and how does it feel to take over television with smart politically-aware comedy not just with his show but by unleashing Stephen Colbert and John Oliver? He answered self-deprecatingly that they hadn't tried to take over television, they've just been lucky enough to find some incredibly talented people. Unfortunately for The Daily Show when they put said talented people in front of the camera, other networks notice how good they are and headhunt them offering to pay twice as much as what Jon can pay. That being said, Jon is extremely proud of all of them (AW <3).

The questions that followed were a mix about some of Jon's past work, other shows, and how did it feel to get cancelled by MTV back when he was doing the Jon Stewart show? To that question Jon joked about drinking a lot, but then gave a serious answer that I loved: the best thing about failure is realising the next day that there is a next day, that failing isn't the end of the word, and you can still wake up every day and write. It's an answer I'm going to remind myself of every time I fall into a terrified fear-pit of failure.

And with that last answer, they launched straight into taping.

The taping itself went incredibly quick. With only the barest of announcements from the floor manager, the screens rolled the opening date announcement and credit music. In that short space of time the floor crew had moved cameras into position with, Jon sat at his desk, and the floor manager was signalling us to cheer which we did. There had been no instruction as to who to look to or what signals were going to be used, or even an introduction for the floor manager, the floor manager just appeared and did it. The Daily Show is a show that has been running for a very long time, and the absolute professionalism and efficiency of the crew was fascinating to watch in itself. Even more amazing was watching Jon Stewart doing his thing. Each segment, the monologue, the correspondent chat (we had a bit with Larry Wilmore who I didn't even notice appearing, I just looked up at the screen above me then back down to the desk and he was there), the interview and Moment of Zen, each segment was done in a single take, no pauses, and no reshoots necessary. Out of all TV shows I've been in the audience for, The Daily Show has been the most efficient.

It also, despite being a comedy show, feels more serious than The Colbert Report. The personality-based nature of The Colbert Report makes it more of a crowd-pleaser to watch live, especially when everyone is at pains to emphasise that Stephen Colbert needs an energetic audience to bounce off of. Jon Stewart and The Daily Show on the other hand is a different beast: Jon Stewart doesn't play a character, he's on the show as himself, and it's his own voice and emotion that comes through on the show. Whereas Colbert does faux-outrage on his show through the lens of his character, Stewart's disbelief and outrage at the news and news media, even when he's making fun of it, is his own. That outrage and disbelief comes through loud and clear on a television screen, and it has even more force to see in person.

The taping wrapped up just after 7pm. Jon Stewart announced the Moment of Zen, footage played, then the music rolled and the lights went down. Afterwards he came back on to bow and thank us all for coming, and that was it. He went backstage to oversee editing for tonight's show, and we all filed out back onto the streets of New York. I'm so glad I went, but compared to bouncing out of TCR, I came out of TDS much quieter and introspective. I'd certainly like to go again, even better if I could manage to go during an Indecision election year. Next time!


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