Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Daily Show

Last week - on June 29, 2010 - Asit kindly let me tag along with him to a taping of The Daily Show.  It's the first time I've ever gone to see a TV show recorded and it was a pretty interesting experience, though most of the comments I'd make fall in line with general chatter I've heard about what happens when you get too close to the magic of modern media.

Here's the door into the theater (the sign reads: Abandon News, All Ye Who Enter Here - gotta love the Dante reference):

And here are our fancy, high-security tickets into the taping:

They say 25 and 26 but I think they really meant 125 and 126, or 225 and 226...whatever the number, we still got inside.  We had reserved spots but they overbook every show so if you want in, you have to show up early and wait around.  I think we waited for about 2 hours.

We were shown into the theater probably half an hour before taping started.  We settled down and then the self-described "warm up monkey" came out to loosen up our laughing muscles and also warn us that, as the show's only laugh track, it was our solemn duty to laugh loud and often.  The price of entry, as it were, given that admittance was otherwise free.

If you watch The Daily Show, you know that Jon Stewart makes a habit of chatting up his audience before the show starts.  The chatting up is pretty carefully timed - I think it lasts about two minutes - he came out when the warm-up monkey was done and took a few questions.  It's a neat way of going a little above and beyond, being generous with his audience, but also, I think, a way for him to warm himself up.  Our first question was about his favorite cheese, so we mostly got a long monologue on the subject of cheese.  His favorites are semi-soft, and he thinks jack cheese should not be loaded up with foreign objects like pepper.

The thing I noticed most, once taping got started, was how obvious it was that Jon Stewart is acting.  Watching on TV, his manners and gestures always seem very natural to me - of course I know that he's acting, and the shows are very obviously scripted and carefully constructed, but I've always had the impression that I'm watching Jon Stewart more or less be himself.  And maybe that's true, or maybe that's not - clearly I'm not qualified to judge, since I have no standard of comparison - but sitting in the live audience, it was very obvious that his constant gesturing, raised voice, and focused intensity are unnatural.  That it's not at all like having a conversation with a normal person, not on TV, where arm-windmilling and mugging for the camera would be disconcerting instead of hilarious.

I've heard actors say that before, that taking up space and moving your body on and off the stage are different things, and complain that non-actors lack affect.  We don't choreograph our thoughts and emotions with our bodies, or at least we don't do so intentionally.  The result is that "normal" body language looks very dull and wooden on TV, I think.

Other than that, the taping was pretty quick - not surprisingly, it lasted exactly as long as the show does - there wasn't much delay as people or props were ushered on and off the set, or cameras were moved about.  The guest was Helen Mirren, which I found terribly exciting.  She was gracious and gorgeous, and she looked like a breath of fresh air in a sleek black sheath with a little tie-front white shrug on.  The interview, however, seemed pretty stiff to me, and she didn't linger once it was over.

So there you go, a little run down of being an audience member at The Daily Show.  It'd be interesting to  check out a few other live tapings, just to make the comparison, and it was interesting to see the set - it looks just like it does on TV, but somehow less impressive.  Definitely a fun thing to do, and I recommend it to anyone who has the opportunity to attend.

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