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The Daily Show

Ben Karlin
Executive Producer of
Friday, September 24, 2004; 1:00 PM

"The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" has always held a high standard for fake news and this election year is no different.

Ben Karlin, executive producer of "The Daily Show," was online to take your questions on the Emmy Award-winning show, their election coverage and whatever else is on your mind.


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The Daily Show will cover the first presidential debate live on Thursday, Sept. 30th, and have just this week released their newest book, "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Presents America (The Book): A Citizen's Guide to Democracy Inaction."

The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

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Philadelphia, Pa.: Can you get the President on?

Ben Karlin: We've asked President George W. Bush to come on the show in every manner conceivable - official channels, when his surrogates have come on the show (Dan Bartlett, Ken Mehlman, Ed Gillespie, et al), we even published an official invitation in the New York Times. Nothing. Go figure.

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Old Town Alexandria, Va.: Who, in your opinion, is the funniest politician who's come on your show?

Also, do you see the Daily Show as a conduit to convince young people to (1) get out and vote and (2) become interested in politics--at least enough to know the issues and vote?

Ben Karlin: In terms of having a sense of humor and knowing how to tell a joke - Bob Dole is probably the funniest. Bob Kerrey and Joe Biden are probably the coolest, in terms of sensibility. And I'll say Rep. Henry Bonilla from Texas probably had the least clue of where the hell he was and what the hell he was doing on our show - even though that's not part of the question and it's gratuitous of me to volunteer it.
As for the second part of your question: This comes up a lot. We don't have a mission to get young people to do anything. If they do take that away from the show - great though. Just fantastic. We just never talk about it.

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Washington, D.C.: Is there any hope of a "Best of the Daily Show" DVD of some sort? I realize that season sets are impractical, but there are so many great comic moments lost to the ether. A few hours of the best bits would be amazing...

Ben Karlin: We're trying. We just did a book - which was a ton of work, so the prospect of putting together a DVD that we are proud was kind of daunting. Now we're working on it though. Hopefully it will be out this spring.

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Alexandria, Va.: Have you thought of taking your show on the road? I'm sure that moving away from "Comedy Central's World News Headquarters in New York" would be a tremendous undertaking, but I know it would be worth it.

Politicians are always trying to get to Washington. Your show should come too. Before the election, see if you can get into Constitution Hall for a week. Your natural audience is right here in this city.

Ben Karlin: Dude (or dudette) - we came to washington for a week in 2002 for the midterm elections. Where were you? We also have been to Boston this year, and LA and Philadelphia in 2000. But taking a show like ours on the road, is hard. It's more technical than a talk show so there are a ton of challenges adapting to a new space. Still, we're thinking about doing a week on a college campus next year.

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Boston, Mass.: What is the release date of "Daily Show: The Movie"?

Ben Karlin: That would be the least entertaining movie ever.

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Baltimore, Md.: Hello Mr. Karlin. HUGE congratulations on your two Emmy's. I am so proud of you guys. I LOVE the show. Keep up the good work.

My question is this: The show seems, at its heart, very positive and upbeat, even though it is a satire. Does the writing staff (or any of the staff) find it difficult to 'find the humor' in politics, especially when it is so rife with controversy as of late? The writing never seems to get bogged down in 'gosh, this is so depressing' mode. How is this done?

Ben Karlin: Thanks. Very glad to hear you say this, though I will tell you we start most mornings dark and sad. Then we treat the day as one giant cathartic push to find the funny and absurd. Except of course for days when we have footage of Madonna on a spiritual pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Then we start the day laughing.

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New Carrolton, Md.: What do you do?

I mean, what is involved in being a producer for a show like The Daily Show? Do you hire people, book the guests, sit at a big desk barking orders to your assistants...?

Ben Karlin: I used to be the head writer for the show and then the former EP left and I was promoted. So deep down I'm just a writer with better than average managerial skills. Jon and I oversee the execution of every aspect of the show. We manage the writers, the producers, the crew, production support everything. I'll go from writing a piece with Stephen Colbert, to making a decision about our production schedule in 2007, to barking random orders at my 9 beleagured indentured servants, to checking out graphics for that nights show... you get the idea. everything.

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The audience...: for the show is taking over. It's clear that Jon is trying to overcome his own agenda and be evenhanded with his "news," but the audience is so loud and so biased that it's making the show difficult to watch.

On the other hand, your field correspondents (especially Corddry and Bee) are brilliant.

Ben Karlin: We have noticed a bit of a partisan turn to the crowd this election year. Perhaps we should screen them and only allow in ideologically balanced people...wait a second.

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Durham, N.C.: I'm always surprized to see the guests you have and the people who are willing to be interviewed for your "reports." How do you get these people to allow you to interview them?

Ben Karlin: people, quite desperately, want to be on the TV.

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Arlington, Va.: Ben,

There's an increasing amount of university research devoted specifically to The Daily Show. I'm talking about a recent Annenberg Center study saying that Daily Show viewers were more politically-aware than Leno or Letterman viewers. Is your staff aware of this research and what do they thing about being part of political science studies?

Ben Karlin: we are aware of it and it scares us. i'm sure less important things are being studied, but come on.

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Raleigh, N.C.: What's it like being the genius behind the greatest show in TV history, and one of the towering achievements of Western civilization? On an unrelated note, can I get tickets?

Ben Karlin: now you know what goes through my head every day as I walk to work. are you a mind reader?
tickets are free. just call.

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Arlington, Va.: Most successful television shows seem to have a few great years early on. The show loses several of its top writers and quality declines. "The Daily Show" seems to have bucked that trend. It was funny when it started and even better today. Have you been able to retain more of your senior writers than is usual?

Ben Karlin: the show has benefitted from:
1. changing hosts three years in, which gave it a new start
2. Jon and I happen to share a very similar vision of where we wanted to take the show
3. we have been able to hang on to a good core of the original writing staff (and rest of the staff as well, which in TV is rare)
4. world events - though sad and horrific - have been a boon for topical news satire

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Houston, Tex.: Ben,

I saw the very poor way Bill O'Reilly treated Jon Stewart on his show, along with calling your viewers "stoned slackers". I don't quite get why it is so hard for people to understand that while your show is an incredibly well done parody, people can still be informed by it.

Ben Karlin: I would guess Bill O'Reilly doesn't really believe that, but needs to say it because its an easy shot that will resonate with his audience. Also, I think he might think that's funny. I think he might actually think the term "slacker" is au curant.

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Los Angeles, Calif.: Who's going to win the election? What kind of odds would you put down?

Ben Karlin: Anyone who is making hard and fast predictions right now doesn't know what the hell they are talking about. That said, Nader in a landslide.

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Morgantown, W.Va.: Hello Mr. Karlin,
Are you afraid that if John Kerry should win the election you might have less material to work with? It seems that George Bush's presidency produces such a "target rich environment".

Ben Karlin: I have many, many fears. That is not even close to one of them.

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Washington, D.C.: Good afternoon! I laugh out loud every time I watch your show, and very much appreciate the intelligent humor you put out each day. My question is, I noticed only one women, and a bunch of white men at the emmys. When will you diversify your contributors a little bit?

Ben Karlin: Our intensive research (thanks to the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School) has found that only white men are funny.

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Damascus, Md.: You must have the coolest job in the world. Are the folks on camera as funny and politically astute off-camera as they are on-camera? How much of the show is written by the onscreen talent?

Ben Karlin: I actually think the coolest job in the world is bush pilot. But this is good too. The on-camera talent here is crazy-talented. They contribute in many ways to their material. Some are in early on in the writing, others add things when we get down to the floor and rehearse it. They are integral in all their field pieces too.

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Reston, Va.: Are you guys going to be on live on election night?

Ben Karlin: yeah, for an hour.

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Washington, D.C.: Did John Kerry ask you to come on, or did you ask him?

Ben Karlin: he was supposed to be on during the primary season, but scheduling never worked out. He had a standing offer and this time, the timing worked out.

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Alexandria, Va.: Along the lines of an earlier question, how do you find the stories and people you report on (i.e. the Cooter Festival)?

Ben Karlin: we have a team of researchers looking for interesting stories for us. also, we subscribe to Wack-Job Magazine.

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Potomac, Md.: Is it possible to have guests on longer than what seems like one minute? It's really ridiculous--and starting to contribute to a bit of a backlash lately--to trumpet these guests, then they get out there, Jon Stewart mugs and says "I didn't know that" about 15 times, the guest doesn't say a thing of importance or interest, and then the segment is over and it's time for another commercial. At least have them on for a few more minutes so they can get some words out that actually mean something.

Ben Karlin: well, the show is 22 minutes long. the guest gets about a third of that.

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Rockville, Md.: How about getting Karl Rove to do an interview. I would love to see that.

Ben Karlin: never happen. we'd love it. but never happen.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Does Jon Stewart do any research before he talks about a subject? Often on the show--whether it's comedy or satire or parody or whatever--it appears that Stewart hasn't done a bit of reseach and comes across as horribly ignorant. You may defend this as saying it's just comedy, but that doesn't cover it. The best satire comes from intelligence--including real research, insight, background and even real journalism. If you were to back up some of the satire with real research, your impact would double. As it is, sometimes Stewart and the reporters' satire falls flat. Just do some basic research.

Ben Karlin: jon not only does no research, but we collectively huff before going on the air so we can kill as many brain cells as possible and come off like a bunch of ill-informed morons. also, it's hard to make exposition funny, so we cut out a lot of set-up and assume our audience is informed.

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Washington, D.C.: Two questions -- Have you tried to get Zell Miller on? Also, have you or John gotten any feedback from Bob Novak?

Ben Karlin: Zell Miller, who is insane, has been on the show, back when his book came out. We might get him back. I believe Jon is doing Crossfire in October. Will Novak show?

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New York, N.Y.: What "real news" do you read/watch on a daily basis?

Ben Karlin: National Review. American Conservative. The Wall Street Journal. The Washington Times. The New York Post. And Fox News. You know, the liberal media.

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Washington, D.C.: On the subject of dealing with a 22 minute timeslot -- any possibility of getting an hour? That would probably be a lot for you guys to produce everyday but maybe once a week? I'd love more daily show!

Ben Karlin: My guess is you would hate an hour-long version of our show. Impossible to write and we'd have to add more guests to compensate. Hunger is the best pickle.

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Cortez, Colo.: I love your show. For the record, I am an old, white woman who neither drinks nor drugs. Where did O'Reilly get his info that people watching "The Daily Show" are stoned?

Ben Karlin: Thank you. Bill O'Reilly gets his information from "Unjustifably Aggrieved Conservative Weekly." Have you read it? It's quite funny.

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Boston, Mass.: I have to ask: why is it that you can put together a fantastically funny half hour every day and Saturday Night Live can't pull off a funny 10 minute newscast every week?

Ben Karlin: you try writing jokes for Wayne Gretzky.

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Alexandria, Va.: How many GOP leaders is Jon Stewart going to suck up to until he gets President Bush?

(P.s.-I have to admit, I do love it when Ed Gillespie comes on--he's quite funny and watching Jon bite his tongue satisfies my need for Schadenfreude).

Ben Karlin: Every single one, if necessary. Ed Gillespie brings it.

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Speaking of the New York Times ad: Who was responsible for "Ann Coulter with a stick"? That was the single funniest thing in the Times that week... other than Maureen Dowd, of course. Okay, to be fair to you, Ms. Dowd is unintentionally funny.

Ben Karlin: All the writers submitted ideas for the ad. If you like that, you gotta check out our book. It's filled with just those kinds of personal digs.

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Washington, D.C.: Mr Karlin, LOVE the Daily Show. As a government worker, it allows me to laugh at my job in a constructive way (versus laughing at my therapist when he gives me the bill). Are you planning to remain with Comedy Central? Also, any plans for doing any specials with one of the networks?

Ben Karlin: We wouldn't last a week on a network. And the show we would end up doing would be disappointing to us, and people who like what we do. In a few years, there will be no distinction between cable and network anyway.

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Washington, D.C.: As a Wisconsin native, I first want to recognize your other great work: the Onion.

Now, what's your favorite TDS moment? I have many -- but the one that stands out is Colbert's report on rumors of Prince Charles when he used a banana as, er, a prop.

Ben Karlin: Thanks. The hardest I've ever laughed was probably at Stephen Colbert's report from North Korea on their "Taepo Dong" missiles. Just silly, stupid fun.

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Speaking of Stephen Colbert: You brought him up...

I saw him in an episode of Law and Order CI, and was shocked at his dramatic acting skills. I think we sometimes mistakenly underestimate the talent of the on-camera people on the Daily Show.

Ben Karlin: Speaking of Stephen Colbert. I am biased, but in my opinion he is one of the most talented performers - comedic or otherwise - on TV today. The guy has a scary genius quality.

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Phoenix, Ariz.: I have this daily ritual of reading and watching news: The New York Times, The Washington Post, Hardball and Countdown - and then comes the Daily Show were everything finally makes sense. My only problem is that I seem to be getting more and more reruns lately. What IS your production schedule and can't we have more?

Ben Karlin: We do 42 weeks a year. We take 6 off and work the other four on banking material and preparing for special events. What more do you want from us, Phoenix? Our hearts? Our souls? Our broken bodies?

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Boston, Mass.: when's the paperback coming out? The hardcover's a little expensive for us struggling citizens..

Ben Karlin: it's 16 bucks on amazon. I really don't know if the paperback is going to be much cheaper, because it's a really expensive book to produce. (lots of charts and graphs.) if you come to the show, we give a lot away.

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Rockville, Md.: Great show! I would be curious to know who is your target audience and whether you are successful in meeting that target? It's clear that you favor the Dems (fine by me!) so why would Republicans want to appear?

Also, why is the show on at 11? Is there a strategy behind that time slot? How do you think you'd fare at other times such as 11:30 (competing with Letterman, Leno) or say, 10?

Thanks and please keep on the great political satire!

Ben Karlin: our target audience is people who enjoy laughter. we do no research beyond that. i think 11 is just the time that makes sense. its the time we were given.

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McLean, Va.: In an era where a lot of media sources are fighting for credibility, the Daily Show seems to have the opposite problem: more credibility than it really wants. However, I can think of at least two instances where I saw the Daily Show reporting on something before (and in one case WELL before) any of the network news channels. So then, where is the line between real and fake news anymore?

Ben Karlin: i think people should be skeptical of all their media sources. especially the ones who's slogans aggressively use the word "trust"

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Washington, D.C.: I am occasional viewer of The Daily Show, but find it to be one of the best shows on TV.

Why do YOU think the show resonates so well as a source of political news?

Ben Karlin: Many people in this country have strong bull***t detectors. For some reason, most major media outlets have turned theirs off out of fear of being labeled partisan.

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Follow-up from Boston, Mass.: Really? You give the books away? Would you still be giving books away months from now? There's a long waitlist to get a free ticket or two....

Ben Karlin: If you come to see the show all the way from boston just to get a free book, I might suggest you DO have $16.87 to spend on Amazon.

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Washington, D.C.: What's your background? How did you get to the Daily Show?

Ben Karlin: I was the editor of the Onion.

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My Mom loves you!;: she really does!;

Ben Karlin: That makes at least one person. Thank you.

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Ben Karlin: I gotta go. Thank you very much. This was fun. And thanks for watching the show. Sitting here in a really not-so-nice part of Hell's Kitchen - think about that, the BAD part of a place called Hell's Kitchen - it's great to talk to so many smart, informed, supportive, interesting folk.

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