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New oral history tracks the birthing pains of The Daily Show With Jon Stewart

Photo: New York Daily News Archive/Getty Images

Good news for anybody who finished our oral history of Comedy Central and still finds themselves hankering for details on humor’s backstage ordeals: Vanity Fair has a fascinating new oral history up today, exploring the often fractious origins of The Daily Show With Jon Stewart.

Much of the history focuses on the show’s transition from original host Craig Kilborn to Stewart, and more specifically, the bitter struggles between Stewart’s writers and Kilborn’s remaining writers, who saw themselves as the stewards of a successful show, fending off a failed MTV interloper.


In the words of correspondent Mo Rocca:

We had a meeting where [Stewart] said he had resolved that the show needed to have a point of view and couldn’t just be the kid at the back of the classroom throwing spitballs in all directions. I remember people trading the kind of glances that said, ‘Oh, shit, this is going to be a disaster.’


Stewart, who’s quoted extensively in the piece, is slightly more diplomatic on the subject of his conflicts with the old writers: “They thought of it as a continuation of their show. I thought it was a new show.” (That being said, there’s also some mention of a famous “fuck you” meeting where Stewart put his foot down and declared the show his own.)


The history—an excerpt from Chris Smith’s upcoming The Daily Show (The Book)—also covers the show’s cultivation of its correspondents and the heady days when the 2000 election began its transformation into one of the most biting forces in American political satire. It also features some sage advice from the show’s most celebrated members, including this anecdote from Stephen Colbert: “I was the first correspondent to be sued. After a piece ran, a guy claimed I claimed I was from CNN. I never said that. But if you make a man comedically look like Hitler and it turns out that he is a retired lawyer with a lot of time on his hands, you’re going to get sued. That’s the lesson for today, children.”

You can read the full excerpt here.


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