Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Top 10 reasons to love The Daily Show

OK, so after a hint at this list a few posts back, here's my paean to The Daily Show, whose fake news offers more insight into the political arena than any of the supposedly "real" news shows aired on FoxNews, CNN, MSNBC, or really, anywhere else. It's a sad state of affairs when a comedy show outdoes self-described solid journalism to be ... no, no, I'm getting ahead of myself. That's #2.

10. Mmmm .... that's good satire.
Gone are the glory days of SNL, replaced by the increasingly stupid humour of its last decade of recruits, to say nothing of imitations like MAD TV -- still occasionally capable of being quite funny, but entirely without the sharp intelligence and wit that defines good satire. The Daily Show delivers said wit and intelligence, well, daily (or at least monday-thursday). One of my favourite examples? During the height (or depths) of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth campaign against John Kerry, The Daily Show did a bit on documents that had surfaced challenging George Washington's war record, suggesting that he did not in fact cross the Delaware. The accusers? The Continental Skiff Boat Oarsmen for Veracity.

9. Captions
There's always a moment of delayed laughter on the show when the caption to whatever graphic Stewart has up behind him sinks in. Always funny, usually quite brilliant. I like the idea of the show employing a battalion of caption writers who've been trained in wordplay and puns from years of studying James Joyce. My favourite ever? For a story of Moqtada-al-Sadr, "Sadr House Rules."

8. The Guests
Or not so much the guests as the fact that Stewart, unlike Chris Matthews, actually plays hardball. Seeing him rip into the inconsistencies of some pundit or politician's argument is good for the soul -- it's an example of and articulate and incisive intelligence you NEVER see in the mainstream media. And celebrities are not exempt ... I still chuckle when I think of how mercilessly he mocked Jennifer Love Hewitt for merely doing the movie Garfield.

7. Indecision 2000; Indecision 2004
The first put The Daily Show on the map as something apart from typical comedy; the second actually made waves with the media world and the two political parties. The end of Indecision 2004, on election night, made me want to laugh and cry at the same time, as in the dwindling moments Stewart did a round-up of some congressional race race results -- including a Republican whose main issue was "lesbianism rampant in high schools" (he won) and another whose principal strategy on the campaign trail was to call his opponent a fag and offer to fight him (he won too). The wry expression on Stewart's face -- when the comic facade crumbled for a moment and we saw his genuine disgust -- said it all.

6. America, The Book: A Citizen's Guide to Democracy Inaction
Oh, where to even begin with this one? so many brilliantly funny moments ... right from the inside cover with the school stamp where students write in their names, and the warning that the school adminstration is aware that "I.P. Freely" and "Dujuana Blowme" are not real names ... to the abortive first attempt to start the chapter on media, where the author loses it and starts ranting ... to the study questions and exercises at the end of each chapter ... to the naked pictures of supreme court justices that got the book pulled from Wal-Mart's shelves (because we're sure that's the real reason).

5. Stephen Colbert, Samantha Bee, Rob Cordry, Ed Helms ....
... and all the rest of the "senior" correspondents who have passed through the show. While the principal setpiece is undoubtedly Jon Stewart, this is an ensemble show. The "news reports" that range from the Cooter Festival to gay penguins at the Central Park Zoo are brilliant both for their very subject matter and for the invariably clueless people that get interviewed. I watch those segments and am never sure if they're staged or not ... don't these people know they're being mocked?? Part of me recoils from the possibility that there could be that much stupidity in the world ... as Stewart himself once said, laughing, after a particularly extreme segment, "Why do people keep letting us interview them?" My favourite reports? Samatha Bee's aforementioned segment on the gay penguins ("OK, I think we can agree--male-on-male penguin sex is disgusting. But girl-girl penguins? That's hot"); the report on the town Dr. Phil called the worst in America; and again with Samantha, the bit on the guy doing the film about Michael Moore. We all lament the fact that Stephen Colbert is leaving, even though I'm certain The Colbert Report will be brilliant. And on that note, we segue to ....

4. This Week in God
Oh, where to even begin. This has to be one of the funniest sequences on television ever, and, like the rest of The Daily Show, manages to sneak in some pretty serious commentary just under the radar. In a world where so many people are getting religion wrong, this irreverent take on timeless questions is a breath of fresh air. Recently, I was rendered helpless with laughter when Colbert did a bit where he tells off a god -- choosing this time the Aztec god Queztacoatl, and giving him five seconds to retaliate. "Queztacoatl ... you're a pussy."

3. Jon Stewart's comic instincts and timing
See my earlier post for my original comments on this one -- but I'll add here as well Stewart's beautiful incredulous silences when one of his "correspondents" says something insane.

2. The most incisive political commentary actually available on the air
Yes, it is a sad fact of the times that we have to look to Comedy Central for something approaching genuine political critique. It is however somewhat appropriate that, in the George W. / Karl Rove era of politics when the truth is simply whatever the adminstration happens to say it is on a given day, when a "mission accomplished" banner can be hung after little more than an initial skirmish, when high-ranking officials get medals for royally fucking up, and the mainstream media simply reiterates what gets handed down from the white house spokesperson ... it makes sense that satire, irony, sarcasm and sheer absurdity are our means to the truth.

1. Crossfire!
I think this was a moment when we saw the real Jon Stewart -- when we saw his very genuine outrage at the current state of affairs in the media, the outrage which is the self-sustaining fuel for the brilliance of The Daily Show. All facades down, earnestly asking Tucker Carlson and Lou Begala to please please please "stop hurting America." Stewart's critique, as usual, was both cogent and devastating, and left his hosts absolutely baffled. Stewart was ostensibly on Crossfire to promote America, The Book, but wasn't sticking to his script. And they had no idea how to respond to this ... Carlson kept accusing Stewart of not himself being a good journalist, to which Stewart responded "the show that leads into mine is puppets making crank calls, " i.e. you're asking for journalistic integrity from a comedy show? wherein lies the problem ... the hosts of Crossfire, it was obvious, have little clue as to just what "journalistic integrity" means, and Stewart's bad behaviour made this painfully obvious. Plus, Stewart called Tucker Carlson a dick, which is something I think we've all wished to do at some point or another.

So there you have it. I welcome comments, or even better, competing lists ...

And a thanks to my former student Andrew, who made some helpful suggestions after my original post. As a tribute, a picture of Andrew -- or "the DeWaard," as he apparently now likes to be called -- from an MIT camping trip this past weekend, the pictures of which debauchery are now spread all through the blogs of my former students listed at right. It gives me a warm, proud feeling to see such pictures of my students -- a feeling that I've somehow taught them well.


andrew said...

oh yes, the dewaard has hit the east coast.

and excellent list, its amazing to think they put out such high quality 4 times a week when most shows cant even do one show a week. and i would add:
11) whenever he says "awwwwwkward" in that way only jon stewart can.

i got my indecision dvds, i was hoping it would be like a best of collection of the whole campaign coverage, but its just the actual live shows they did covering the conventions. still good, but not what i expected. worth a zip rental.

mr. tomas ubik said...

excellent list, i would rank the captions higher because they are puntastically the most brilliant play on words since the Ben Stein's money writers.

and to think...he was the german smoochy and the enhancement smoker, now he is respected as a leading political pundit.

good on'em

I would like to point out the word that I have to enter in order to post this comment is DakkSac...what is a dakksac?

Paige said...

The captions always kill me. I was recently overjoyed to discover J Stew repeats are on at noon... perfect for the lazy I-just-got-up afternoon viewing.

But I've always wondered, are the interviews done in real time? Someone else said they don't say half the jokes infront of the people, and just record it to look that way...Hmm.

Chris in NF said...

What is a dakksac? I think that depends entirely on whether you know a guy named Dakk or not ... wasn't there a minor character in one of the Star Wars movies named Dakk?

I've always had the feeling that the interviews were staged and edited -- whenever they show us the back of the interviewee's head while Cordry or whoever is facing the camera asking a question, I always look really hard to see if it's the same person or a stand in (impossible to tell of course, but I try anyway).