Are Jon Stewart & Stephen Colbert Honest With Guests?
I’ve enjoyed The Daily Show with Jon Stewart for more than a decade.
But I’ve often wondered how the show’s correspondents consistently get people to speak to them for the program’s comedic taped segments. Do the correspondents play it fair by fully disclosing who they are and on what show the interview will air, or do they obscure their identities in an effort to secure the interview?
A reader recently wrote in with that question, asking:
“Do shows like The Daily Show (and The Colbert Report) actually dupe potential guests? Is it possible that The Daily Show would have given false names, etc., to get the interview? Do many guests not realize the nature of the program? (This baffles me as these shows have extremely high ratings…and people are very aware of what they do….are they sneaky and underhanded in obtaining guests)?”
In an effort to get that answer, I emailed Comedy Central’s Director of Corporate Communications, Renata Luczak, last week. She didn’t respond.
I also emailed a former guest, Republican strategist Noelle Nikpour, who looked rather foolish in an October Daily Show segment. I wanted to learn more about what she was told prior to the interview; she also didn’t respond.
Her segment, about her mistrust of scientists, is below – and is typical of the way interviews are edited for correspondent pieces:
Since I was unable to get answers from the network or a recent guest, I’d like to turn to this blog’s readers for answers.
Does anyone have information about how The Daily Show or The Colbert Report gets people to participate in these interviews? I’m not talking here about the live guests both hosts have each night, but rather the interview subjects who appear in taped pieces.
Even better, does anyone have a release form from one of the shows?
Given Comedy Central’s failure to respond, I’m left to conclude that the shows probably don’t tell guests everything. I can’t imagine they would get guests to agree to interviews if they said, “Hi, this is Aasif Mandvi with The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and I’d like to interview you for a comedic taped piece that will almost surely make you look silly.”
But I’d rather not surmise. Please share what you know. And if I hear back from Comedy Central or Ms. Nikpour, I’ll add their replies to the story.
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Comedy Central approached us at Miami Seaquarium during the “Summer of the Shark” when there was a lot of news surrounding some shark attacks in Florida and other states. The Daily Show shot an interview with our Manager of Animal Care at the time. We knew what the show was about, we knew that we were either the straight man in the joke that would make someone else look bad, or possible be the subject of the joke and might look foolish. We debated the issue and decided that it was worth the risk for the nationwide exposure we would get.
Ultimately we were happy with how we were portrayed. They were up front with us, and even asked us not to add any funny comments but to play it completely straight and leave the jokes to them.
Andrew – That’s really great information — thank you for leaving it on the blog.
Now there’s only one more question to be answered. How do they handle the person who’s made out to be the “joke” of the piece? It sounds like you were the straight man, so little risk for them in playing it straight with you. But what about the people they make fools out of?
I’m mindful of the “Borat” strategy of having guests sign a waiver with the parent company without ever fully telling them how the footage will be used. I’d be curious to learn how they treat those people.
If they’re walking the straight and narrow, good for them. But that would raise another question – if there was nothing to this, why didn’t they respond to my inquiry? They could have killed this post outright by saying they always play it straight – which is why I’m not quite ready to let this one go yet.
Thanks again, Andrew.
Is it possible that Comedy Central didn’t reply because they were confused when you asked about “booking guests”? The people you’re referring to are interview subjects. The guests, I presume, clamor to get onto the show and know exactly what they’re getting themselves into. I also suspect the woman in the clip you selected knew exactly what she was doing and went forward because she wanted the exposure.
Thank you for your comment and question. I went back and looked at the email I sent to Comedy Central’s spokesperson, and I believe the intent of the question was clear. Here’s the relevant portion: “When correspondents for The Daily Show arrange an interview, do they tell the people they’re from The Daily Show in advance? If so, it’s hard to understand why so many people would agree to the interview – the correspondents are incredibly adept at making foolish people look, well, foolish.”
I’ll let you know if I receive a response.
I would also like to hear what they have to say, though I doubt they’re eager to discuss it. I suspect the answer lies in your last sentence. Foolish people do foolish things.
It’s quite likely Comedy Central plays it straight when they do “field” reports, because they’ll get the results they want anyway.
Your first commenter nailed one part of the reasoning — the national exposure is worth the risk, and those subjects go in with their eyes open.
Another part is because people tend to think very highly of themselves — especially those who’ve risen to positions of authority. They may well reason that “other people” might look foolish on “The Daily Show” or “The Colbert Report,” but THEY are too savvy to be made the fool.
Also, people tend to act differently around celebrities — even minor ones like Aasif Mandvi or Samantha Bee. Put a waiver in front of them, and some will sign without thinking twice.
Great insight! I’ve often wondered about this same question myself. Unless these people live under rocks in an undiscovered rainforest, they MUST know what they’re getting into.
I’ve noticed that these interviews frequently have the same visual appearance. Always with 2 cameras and never the interviewer and interviewee’s face in the same camera shot. I suspect the interview is not conducted by the celebrity comedian, but, by someone not famous. Then they splice in the comedic side. The key word here is, suspect.
Agree with Steve that it does appear that some shots may be ‘reenacted’ with over shoulder shots. First thought as Steve that whole interviews may have been cut and spliced but then started to notice that there will frequently be into or exit shots of the two together. Now completely agree many previous comments which note that drive for PR and high image of self confidence and belief in subject to be discussed, is probably what drives these people to agree to be interviewed. Plus, I’d be pretty sure that the request comes to them as ambiguous as possible, probably using Viacom quite a bit in the request.
I just found this blog post while searching for my own answers on The Daily Show interviews. I also found this website: http://joelcomm.com/behind-the-scenes-of-the-daily-1.html which is Joel Comm of iFart mobile and his experience doing the interview and the entire setup. Wyatt Cenac performed the interview and went out to Joel’s headquarters in Colorado for it. The other interviewee is Sam Magdeilan of Air-O-Matic, creator of the Pull My Finger app. Both companies were involved in a lawsuit over the apps at the time, which was the basis of the interviews. I think this will answer all questions on how the interviews are performed and then edited for maximum entertainment. This is my favorite segment of The Daily Show.
Thank you very much for that terrific link! You’re right, that explains a lot. It seems that they don’t apply journalistic standards, but I’d maintain they should. It’s almost deceptive to present fake reaction shots as if they really occurred.
It’s now 2013 and Noelle Nikpour has appeared on the daily show again in October and looked just as ridiculous. Can’t really blame the show since they keep coming on…
Agreed with Epth – I stumbled on this site while searching around a bit to see if she had any objections to how she was portrayed on the show the first time around, but the fact that she went on AGAIN obviously means she had no objections.
Of course, that leads to the disturbing conclusion that she really IS that way, and had no objections about the honesty of the portrayal because of that, not her being “in on the joke”. She IS a Fox News contributor, after all – I’m pretty sure she’d have lambasted the show on-air for “unfair treatment” if they’d taken a lot of it out of context.