The Daily Show: taping

As my Valentine’s Day present, Debbie had ordered tickets back in February for yesterday’s (5/28/08) taping of The Daily Show, the first opening for which we could get advanced tickets. So we went, and it was a blast. We had heard that they overbook, and people who had previously been bumped get first crack at the limited number of seats, so we made sure we got there around 2:30. At that point, there were 10 people ahead of us, but that number was deceptive, since each person can invite up to three others who must be in line by 4:30 when they dispense the actual tickets to the show. With the previous people who had been bumped factored in (they’re referred to as ”VIPs“), there were probably 70 people ahead of us, so we had no problem getting in (we were #18 and #19 in the regular guest queue). Tickets get distributed at exactly 4:30 and the doors open around 5 PM, at which time you go through security just like the airports (they don’t make you take off your shoes, but you must take off your belt). At multiple times while waiting in line, you get reminded that no cell phones are to be left on inside, mostly because they don’t want any photos of the studio. If anyone is even seen with an electronic device while inside, it gets temporarily confiscated. The guy reading the riot act to all of us on line looks like a junior version of Mr. T, so he is clearly someone you don’t screw around with. We then waited in the lobby for about 20 minutes and then we got into the studio.

The studio is amazing; its just like what one sees on TV, but more colorful and smaller. There are a lot of electronic panels and more studio lights in the ceiling than I’d ever seen before. We had very good seats in the third row center, while the “VIPs” go on the left side facing where Jon Stewart sits. After sitting in the studio for a half-hour until 6 PM, a very funny comedian (Paul Mercurio) came out and warmed up the audience. He was very biting and made a lot of jokes about selected members of the audience; if you wear a fancy suit or look like a student, you’re fair game. And he really went after a bankruptcy attorney (in a suit), a few students and two older sisters from Ohio. Interestingly, he’s a former corporate attorney himself, so I guess he saw the light and became a comedian.

Just before 6:30, Jon Stewart came out for a very brief Q+A, taking a question about what he does to have grey lines in his hair (“I’m old. That’s like asking me ‘how do you get your bones so thin?’”). Very funny stuff, although JS didn’t mingle with the crowd as much as I would have thought. 

At 6:30 the show started and it runs through exactly as it does on TV, since they don’t do any second takes. It’s all taped in real time, with pauses for commercial breaks. It’s hard to hear the dialogue from the stage, particularly over the laughter, so I had to catch some of the lines I missed last night by watching The Daily Show on TV when we got home just before 11 PM. One very small thing was cut from the actual broadcast; a line about McCain taking Bush to the airport, exposing the fact that Bush was helping with a McCain fundraiser out of the public’s eye. At the end, Jon Stewart also tapes an intro for the global edition of The Daily Show, which was pretty funny as well (a bit about the International Space Station’s toilet failing).

So while we waited 3 hours for a half-hour taping, it was very much worth it. Watching a taping gives you a very different perspective on what goes into a show. While the dress rehearsal takes place before the audience has arrived, there is still a lot of spontaneity involved, since the taping is not reshot and what happens is exactly what is aired that night (with the exception of a cut here and there). The program is created with a pretty bare-bones staff, and it must be a pretty long day for everyone. While I would have loved it had Jon Stewart interacted with the audience more, especially after the taping, I realized that for everyone there, it’s a job. However, given how many times the camera crew were laughing their asses off, it’s clearly a pretty fun job. I mean, how cool would it be to tell people “I work at The Daily Show?”