The Daily Show: Then and “New”

Writer Rob Kutner (CONAN, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart)
Writer Rob Kutner (CONAN, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart)

A Message from Mayim: There’s not many people who share my love for comedy, comics, science and being an out-of-the-box thinker. Rob Kutner, who formerly wrote for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and now writes for Conan O’Brien, wrangled me into recording a rap about the 90s, including me saying “whoa!” for his celebrity-packed benefit album 2776 (Apologies, Joey Lawrence, for co-opting your catchphrase, but it was for charity!) Now I’ve wrangled Rob into being our first guest contributor at GrokNation! And since he’s a The Daily Show insider, here’s his “grok” of what’s changed in the world since the show originally premiered, and what challenges the new The Daily Show staff might face in the weeks ahead (new host Trevor Noah takes Jon’s seat behind the desk starting September 28). Fellow Grokites, presenting…Rob Kutner!

The Daily Show: Then and “New”
by Rob Kutner

Like many people, I’m curious about the September 28th debut of The Daily Show with Trevor Noah… or, as many loyal viewers may be thinking of it, The Daily Show With Not Jon Stewart. Will Noah be able to bring the same sort of “gravitas-earned-by-deflating-gravitas?” Will he able to fill Jon’s huge (and yet also very tiny) shoes? In short, will it still be The Daily Show?

As someone who wrote for the show from 2002-2009, I have a very simple answer:

Yes.

And, of course not.

The Daily Show with Trevor Noah airs September 28 on Comedy Central (via http://press.cc.com/series/the-daily-show-with-trevor-noah/bio/435697)

Unless you’ve spent the past few years in a cave (sorry, cheesemakers!), you know how dramatically the political and media landscape have shifted since The Daily Show under Stewart first joined the conversation. Start with the name: Daily used to be a fairly significant frequency for news satire, a leap from the weekly jibes of Bill Maher and SNL’s Weekend Update. And that was fine, because – despite the three cable news network’s efforts to grab us every five minutes with further non-updates – the news cycle was still basically circadian. When I worked at TDS, we taped at 5:30 pm EST. So if something big broke by 3:30 or so, we would have to wait until the next day’s show to properly discuss, find footage, develop an angle and, of course, put the graphics department to work.

These days, with Twitter, Facebook and Quisblo (a social media site I just made up right now), not only do bits of news emerge round-the-clock, so do reactions; sometimes even the tenor of the story itself will shift. The gulf between 5:30 pm (when the show tapes) and 11pm (when the show airs) can seem like a lifetime.

An even more dramatic effect of social media is that we’re getting our news more selectively-tailored to our preexisting political biases. Yes, you can still use a remote control to flip between FoxNews and MSNBC. But with online algorithms micro-targeting our preferences (and the smorgasboard of ideological news sources we ourselves choose from) we end up passively in “news bubbles,” getting a vastly different picture of the world than our unlike-minded citizens are getting. It’s an even bigger divide than Blue State/Red State –it’s Blue Dress/Gold Dress.

Finally, even the “traditional” poles between which The Daily Show anchored itself during the past decade are crumbling. Consider the recent friction between Donald Trump and FoxNews. Although extremely entertaining fodder, it also makes for a more confusing battlefield to choose sides on than the Iran deal. Or witness the current presidential race, in which becoming a “candidate” is as much a “celeb-preneur” move as any Kardashian dreamed of – and requires the same nonstop output of premeditated “outrages” (though, thankfully, fewer sex tapes).

During my time at The Daily Show, a big priority for us and our hardworking studio producers was to find clips for those famous montages: of officials reciting party lines, reflecting common (usually horrible) trends and walls of ideological conformity. With all the candidates (and even FoxNews) out for themselves, there are no walls – except for the one Donald Trump wants to build.

So those are but a few of the challenges facing the new Trevor Noah-era crew.

But here’s the good (fake) news: Behind the scenes, it’s still by and large the Jon Stewart crew.

Remember on the last Jon Stewart Daily Show, when they showed that Goodfellas-inspired segment tracking through the production office? I was amazed and impressed at how many of my colleagues, on every level, were still manning their posts just as doggedly as when I was there. Jon may have set the original course, and ably steered the ship, but he also helped build it, and it sails on indefatigably with that same machinery. Those eagle-eyed producers are still finding the gotchas. Writers are still tearing the received narratives to shreds and then reassembling them, with poop jokes. Assistants and coordinators are still making it all happen. Interns are still schlepping.

Jon was, of course, the (often hoarse) voice, heart and soul of The Daily Show as we know it. But his ship knows the way so well, even a new captain from the Southern Hemisphere couldn’t get lost.

So will The Daily Show be a different animal without Jon Stewart? Absolutely. And it’s going to be one hell of a ride.

Rob Kutner is a writer for TBS’ CONAN and previously The Daily Show With Jon Stewart and Dennis Miller Live. He is also the writer/creator of the new humorous sci-fi comic book “Shrinkage” (starring a plucky lady neuroscientist who is somehow not Mayim), author of the humor books Apocalypse How and The Future According to Me, and co-creator of the comedy-music album “2776,” on which Mayim pulls out her rap skillz. You can follow Rob on Twitter at @ApocalypseHow.

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