LOS ANGELES -- Steve Carell lets out a maniacal
"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
"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
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."