I recently visited New York, and as a big fan of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, I was keen to see if I could attend a taping of a show. Normally, this would mean showing up at the studios quite early, or emailing Comedy Central months in advance, but luckily I have a friend of a friend who works on the show, and they were good enough to put me on the “VIP List”.
The Daily Show studios are over in the Hells Kitchen area of New York, on 52nd Street and 11th Avenue. It’s a bit of a contrast from David Letterman’s Ed Sullivan Theatre, deep in the heart of Broadway, but there are a few diners scattered about. I went to have some lunch, and waited till about 4pm when I went back to the studios.
At the door, I was given a ticket, and told to go round to a side entrance – I was let in and given a wristband which said “Not a threat to The Daily Show or the future of humanity” (!), and told to go through to the ‘crew lounge’. This was a kitchen area right next to the studio, with a drinks machine and some sofas. I sat down and waited – suddenly, I could hear the Daily Show music, and the familiar voice of Jon Stewart: turns out I could hear the rehearsal!
Eventually, a few other people on the VIP list came into the lounge, and then when the rehearsal was over, one of the show’s interns arrived to go through the afternoon’s schedule. We couldn’t take any food or drink into the studio, we had to go to the bathroom before going into the studio, and we had to laugh extra-loud at all of Jon’s jokes. We were also told that they’d be a Q&A with Jon before the show, but we couldn’t ask him any ‘weird questions’ such as ‘can I have a lock of your hair?’!
At about 4.45pm, we were shown through to the studio, coming in through the back (so we got to briefly see behind Jon’s desk), and as we were the first in the studio, we were given front row seats, just to the right of Jon’s desk. Then, the rest of the audience who’d been waiting outside were brought in, and seated while some music played (apparently, they brought the audience in a lot earlier than usual because it was so cold in New York that day, with temperatures of approximately minus 8 degrees).
The studio itself was a lot bigger than I expected, it holds about 150 people, and the set looks exactly as you’d expect. Jon’s desk is on the left hand side, and there’s an additional desk just to the right, which wasn’t used on the taping I attended. There were no correspondents on this taping either, although the astrophysicist Neil Degrasse Tyson did appear briefly.
There was quite a long wait while the audience was all seated, but when everyone was in, the warm up comedian Paul Mercurio came on, and immediately started to pump up the audience before introducing the man himself. Jon walked onto stage looking exactly as you’d expect – hair gelled, smart suit, and looking as tiny as you’d expect. He chatted to the audience for quite a while, taking questions like “which US President, alive or dead, would you most like to get high with?” (Answer: Taft, as he would have had the best munchies), ‘what advice would you have for the youth of today, who seem to be filled with so much hopelessness?” (this question seemed to bemuse Jon, and he even referenced it later on during the show), and ‘on what occasion do you wear your most interesting underwear?’ (answer: he only wears briefs, as boxer shorts feel ‘too freeing’).
Jon also let slip that the globe above his desk, which has the names of various cities spinning on it, references US cities where former Presidents were born, a special theme as it was Inauguration week. After about 15 minutes or so, the show started, and, similar to Letterman, it was all recorded pretty much ‘as live’. The topics covered were Hilary Clinton’s testimony to the Senate about the Benghazi incident, a piece about China’s poor air quality, and an interview with the actor Christopher Walken.
The taping itself was great to watch, there were about 3 or 4 cameras that keep swooping round the studio (and sometimes blocking the view), and the many monitors dotted around the place showed the video clips that Jon was referring to. When the advert breaks come on, music is played (some of which you’d expect – Bruce Springsteen, Beastie Boys and White Stripes, and some of which you wouldn’t – N’Sync’s Bye Bye Bye!). The whole show took about 30 minutes or so to record, and right at the end they had to re-record one line which Jon had fluffed (and, watching it back, you really can’t see where the show was edited to fit in the re-recorded line).
It was a great experience, and one that I’d recommend to anyone visiting New York – even if you’re not a big fan of The Daily Show, it’s fascinating to watch how the show gets made. And obviously, if you are a fan of Jon Stewart, it’s well worth looking into getting tickets as you may get the chance to talk to the man himself!
Author: John Murphy