Friday, November 25, 2016

Review: The Daily Show (The Book): An Oral History by Chris Smith

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

Read copy: eBook (Kindle)
Published: November 22, 2016
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

For sixteen years (1999-2015), The Daily Show was a game-changer in television, blurring the line between opinionated news reportage and comedy. It launched careers, lampooned legions of public figures and garnered 18 Emmy's. Now the fascinating behind-the-scenes antics, controversies and relationships will be chronicled by legendary host Jon Stewart and the players themselves. Starting with the inception of the show and Craig Kilborn's turn as host, this history will cover the groundbreaking election coverage, Jon's famous monologue in the wake of 9/11, confrontations with John McCain and Hillary Clinton, The O'Reilly Factor, the war with CNN and every satirical moment in between, including legendary cast members Samantha Bee, Stephen Colbert, Lewis Black, Jon Hodgman, Steve Carell, Larry Wilmore, John Oliver and a foreword from Jon Stewart.

My rating:

Just like Bassem Youssef, I also first heard of Jon Stewart by watching CNN and its weekly (?) The Daily Show Global Edition. I wasn't a regular watcher, but when I happened to catch it, I loved it. I started watching it, still half-seriously during the 2008 election campaign, and became a regular watcher a few years later. Thank you, Internet.

Yes, it was funny (sometimes downright pee-your-pants hilarious), but there was depth there, nuance that made it obvious much thought went into each and every show. It wasn't until after reading this book, that I realized just how much thought, hard work, stress, (figurative) blood and (literal) tears were behind this show that pretended to be just a little oddball comedy, but was indeed more informative and straightforward than "regular" news it made fun of, and more honest and down-to-earth than the politics it criticized.

When Stewart announced his departure, I went on a marathon watch of all episodes made during his sixteen year tenure. Imagine my surprise when I first started with the episodes from way back in 1999. "WTF is this?" I went. "This is nothing even remotely compared to what I enjoy every day."
The change from that first formative year (after Stewart took over from Kilborn) was evident throughout the months, but (too) slow, and this book nicely illustrates just why that was. All the trials and tribulations, the stubborn refusal to yield to something new from the staff, Stewart's stubbornness and resolution to create something meaningful, while also creating a good working environment and a well-oiled machine that is capable of moving forward even without its captain.
The strain and stress Stewart must've been under all the years working on the show, which was also the reason for his "retirement" and which was only faintly seen on screen, was finally made starkly clear, and the man has all my admiration for carrying on as long as he did. Many would've crumbled sooner. Now, I can finally say, I understand what drove him to "abdicate" from his comedic throne.

I loved the narrative style of this book, told mostly from the point of view of Stewart and the crew/staff (old, new, and ongoing) of The Daily Show, and some of the "enemies", with the author injecting only minor points between the recounts. Reading it, it felt like sitting in a room with all these people, listening to their conversation.
The narrative follows the process of creating the show from (basically) nothing, how their own narrative, their point of view, and their "mission" changed throughout the years, what went into creating a single arc of the show or one single episode, with only minor glimpses of dirty laundry or details about backstage feuds. It was mostly a love ode to the show and its creator and "Dad".
I actually expected to see more anecdotes, instead of this being quite a serious book, but I'm not complaining.

If you expect page after page of jokes, you will want to look elsewhere. But if you enjoyed The Daily Show and you're interested in a "post-mortem" of its creation and the development and changes that turned it into a cultural phenomenon, this is the book for you.
Eloquent, a little introspective, and funny in just the right moments.


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