Jon Stewart's 'Daily Show' has exploded beyond its humble late-night comedy roots

By Dan Zak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 29, 2010

Springsteen detonates from above. Red and blue lights somersault. The drumbeats and guitar riffs of "Born to Run" flood the theater. The audience quakes while Jon Stewart leans over his desk for a last-minute powwow with a trio of writer-producers on Tuesday.

"Tell them to keep the pace up," Stewart says, his voice inaudible over the roar in the theater but carried clearly through his microphone to the giant white production truck on Sixth Street NW. Inside the truck, in front of a flickering wall of switchboards and video feeds that looks like a mini NORAD, the crew gets the message. This is a 22-minute song-and-dance. Nothing more, nothing less.

"10, 9, 8," yells the assistant director in the truck.

"No cheering from the crowd when we introduce correspondents," Stewart tells his team in the theater.

". . . 7, 6 . . . "

"Let's do it, baby," Stewart says, drumming a pencil on the desk as his team disperses. "Let's do it."

" . . . 5, 4 . . . "

On the main monitor in the truck, Stewart is passionately mouthing the lyric: "Will you walk with me out on the wire?" The answer from the ecstatic audience is apparently yes, we will. "The Daily Show" is 14 years old, mood-swinging between vulgar one-liners about Harriet Tubman's genitals and lacerating stabs at accountability journalism. But its momentum -- more money, more notoriety, a curriculum of books -- only continues if the jokes land in that tricky area between comedy and import.

" . . . 3 . . . "

The New York show that grinds its ax on Washington is now in Washington for first time in eight years, just before the midterm elections.

" . . . 2 . . . "

The president is coming on the show. There's a rally on the Mall on Saturday that could be huge.

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