"'Daily Show' Celebrates America's Eccentricity"
March 2, 2002
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LOS ANGELES -- Steve Carell lets out a maniacal laugh.

"They have no idea," he says, a gleam in his eyes. "Then they see it, and they cry..."

That was his tongue-in-cheek description of whether the subjects of the field reports on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" are in on the joke.

He and fellow correspondent Stephen Colbert, anchor Jon Stewart, co-creator Madeleine Smithberg and head writer Ben Karlin spoke to an appreciative crowd Friday (March 1) at the William S. Paley Television Festival put on by the Museum of Television and Radio.

The stories "The Daily Show" covers are all real, Smithberg says, uncovered by a research team whose job is to read newspapers and web sites from around the country in search of the weird stories that are the show's staple.

Colbert says that now that the show has been on the air for more than five years, it's getting harder to find subjects who don't know what they're doing.

"In the old days, no one knew who we were, and it was great," says Colbert, who's been with the show since 1997. Now, it's a little tougher to get geunine responses from the inane in nature, but dead serious in tone, questions he and his fellow correspondents pose.

"I did a story recently where a guy thought the orange juice companies were trying to make you gay," Colbert says. The interview subject wasn't just some crackpot, but the spokesman for a well-funded conservative lobbying group in Washington.

"And the guy didn't know who we were, which I think is a fireable offense now," Colbert says. "But I was just so excited. ... After we were finished, the cameraman said, 'I shot with " 60 Minutes" for 25 years, and I've never seen a hit that clean.'"

The nature of "Daily Show" stories has changed over the years. Rather than looking for "the guy with a UFO in his yard," as Colbert puts it, the show's staff now seeks out stories that fit the day's events, but in a way no straight news organization would think of covering.

"We've tried to find things that are not necessarily relevant to the world, but relevant to us," Stewart says. "And hopefully there's no mean-spiritedness about it -- we have a great love for eccentricity and individuality."

Carell likes to think of his interview subjects as co-stars rather than targets.

"If they truly think you're a complete ass," it makes for a funny piece, he says, because their reactions are natural. "They're not in on the joke, but they're not a victim either."

The show's political humor follows a similar philosophy, Stewart says. While the writers and on-air talent infuse their own views into stories, they work hard not to preach to the audience.

"We try to remember that it's a comedy show more than a political show," he says. "I think that's what makes us unique. We like to think of ourselves, like most of us, as being in the center, and we're busy while the knuckleheads are running the world."


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