'Daily Show' No Laughing Matter for Democrats at Convention

In Quest for Stewart's Audience, Party Grants Him Unprecedented Access

By Published on .

DENVER (AdAge.com) -- Possibly the third most important man in the race for president sits quietly at his desk in Denver looking around, fumbling papers, readying for another convention night. Then the music begins, the cheers start, and Jon Stewart starts telling jokes.

It's Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" (this week subtitled "Guess Who's Coming to Denver"), and this week is the first of back-to-back convention weeks. The show is being produced Tuesday through Thursday from the University of Denver's Newman Center for Performing Arts, seven miles from the Pepsi Center home of most of the Democratic National Convention.

On Wednesday, the show opened with jokes about some of Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich's gestures during his Tuesday convention speech (Mr. Stewart expresses concern that no puff of smoke followed) and about former President Bill Clinton's odd open-mouth smile amid convention praise of his wife Sen. Hillary Clinton (Mr. Stewart tried to stick a sub sandwich into a picture of Mr. Clinton).

There was also a quick comparison of former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner's keynote speech with Barack Obama's four years ago. "Your speech sucked," said Mr. Stewart in an imaginary phone conversation with Mr. Warner.

It may all look like comedy, but Democrats are taking "The Daily Show" and its audience pretty seriously.

Correspondent John Oliver's piece on Wednesday's show talking to Hillary Clinton's supporters was partially shot inside the Pepsi Center.

Mr. Oliver was using convention passes the Democrats gave to "The Daily Show" in what is a first for the show's coverage of the conventions.

"We have obtained floor passes for the first time ever -- officially to us as opposed to through the Associated Press," said Kahane Corn, the show's executive producer. "The [Democratic National Committee] has been working with us incredibly."

Democrats gave the "The Daily Show" four floor passes initially and more credentials later. In addition, "The Daily Show" had a production bus parked inside the perimeter of the Pepsi Center Monday through Wednesday and it is getting to move the bus today to Invesco Field, where Barack Obama will speak tonight.

"Like it or not, it's got a big audience. And that means we're getting our message to more people. After all, Comedy Central fans vote too," said Natalie Wyeth, press secretary for the Democratic National Convention Committee.

Republicans as of Wednesday had provided no similar access in St. Paul, though Ms. Corn said she remained hopeful. "The Daily Show" is skipping its normal Labor Day off to kick off coverage of the GOP convention in St. Paul Monday through Thursday next week.

While not a news organization, this year's unusual back-to-back conventions are presenting the show with some of the exact same problems in moving equipment and staff from the Democratic to the Republican convention. It's a problem the show has never faced before.

"What we found out is -- as intense as every convention has been and the tremendous amount of work to cover something that's outside our normal workspace -- that it was apparently a luxury to only have to focus on only one at a time because we had weeks in between them," said Ms. Corn.

She said the show has never before done back-to-back remotes from two different places, and two different sets had to be created and crews enlisted to meet demands.

Although the show airs at 11 p.m. EDT, immediately after the night of convention activities, it is produced earlier in the day and reflects the previous night's convention activities.

"It's Mountain Time, so our coverage is 26 hours behind," joked Mr. Stewart on Wednesday.

The schedule means, however, that immediately after one show is produced, writers race to TV sets to watch the convention and prepare material for the next day's show.

"We have everyone stationed around a bunch of different television sets in this building, with each set tuned to a different network," said Ms. Corn. "As they see what happens, people are writing at their computer noting things, and slowly things are starting to come together on how we will cover it on the next day's show."

Then again, this is "The Daily Show."

"There had been bets being placed before we left about who was going to lose it, when," she said. "Some people are already making money on it."
Most Popular