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The Jon Stewart vs. Bill O’Reilly RUMBLE is just over a week away, Saturday, October 6th. Here’s just one half of this clash of titanpundits…

All words by Colette Shade.

On Tuesday, September 25, I find myself with a free ticket to a taping of “The Daily Show.” Attending a taping of “The Daily Show” is not something that would ordinarily occur to me as an entertainment option. Don’t get me wrong: Stewart and Colbert frequently play on Hulu while I clean my apartment, and I still laugh heartily at their jokes. But I don’t consider myself a “fan” of these shows for the same reason I don’t consider myself a “fan” of beer or naps or Gangnam Style parody videos. Almost everyone loves these things. In fact, I would say that the popularity of “The Daily Show” is even more ubiquitous than any of the three things I just listed.

Jon Stewart has been hosting “The Daily Show” since 1999. So much ink has been spilt about Stewart and company—especially in those years following the war in Iraq, when Stewart was often the lone mainstream voice raising questions about the destruction of civil liberties at home and abroad—that it seems null to write anything else. Yet the show remains funny and relevant. It is comfort food in broadcast form. And while attending a taping may not win you any points for coolness or originality, the experience is pure, wholesome fun.

“The Daily Show” studio is a squat building on 11th Avenue and 51st Street. The only thing distinguishing it from the rest of Hell’s Kitchen is the wraparound blue awning reading “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart,” and the parallel line wrapped around the block. We are herded into a back room where we are debriefed on how to behave (laugh at everything, NO cell phones). We are seated in the studio, where we wait for almost an hour while a combination of 90s alternative rock and popular hip hop is piped over the speakers. The music gets gradually louder until, finally, an up-and-coming comedian emerges. He works the crowd a little, picking on an older couple, a female NYU student and a bespectacled Danish Wall Streeter whose slim-cut flannel suit makes him look more like he belongs in the graphic design department at Ogilvy. The comedian tells the student that he is concerned about the length of her skirt, and to watch out for the Danish man’s sexual advances. Everyone laughs obligingly (we were informed backstage to laugh no matter what), but it feels a little too soon after Todd Akin’s “legitimate rape” remarks for this progressive crowd.

Finally, Stewart emerges, looking exactly the same in person as he does onscreen: long face, rakish grey coif, slim-cut pinstripe suit. He fields questions from the audience. Example: “What is Bill O’Reilly like in person?” The second question turns out to be a marriage proposal from a young man to his girlfriend, a query which is answered with “Fuck yes!” Stewart seems touched, and the proposal is mentioned at the beginning of the show.

Most of Stewart’s jokes are about Mitt’s recent deluge of gaffes. “The closer we get to the election, the dumber Mitt Romney appears to be getting,” he opines as the audience cheers. “It’s like he’s Charlie from Flowers for Algernon.” He offers up plenty of the exasperated faces, headdesks and eye-rolls for which he is known, accompanied by yawps at the asinine state of political discourse in the United States. I laugh heartily, and not just because I was told to do so. Stewart retains his gift of concisely paraphrasing the injustice and absurdity faced every day by the majority of Americans who wish to engage politically but find themselves faced with an unsympathetic polity.

The evening’s guest is King Abdullah II of Jordan, who is in town for the UN General Assembly. They chat about “The Innocence of Muslims,” Obama’s presence at the UN General Assembly and the Arab Spring. Six bodyguards in fine suits are lined up in the wings below me.

“You run a constitutional monarchy in the middle of the largest democratic transition in your part of the world,” Stewart says. “How do you manage that without being deposed like some of these other countries have had to deal with?”
“Different countries are going through different paces,” King Abdullah says. “The republics have gone through a much tougher version of this than the monarchies, funny enough, but I hope that we’ll all look back and say that the Arab Spring is a good thing.”

There is a particularly good discussion about Iraq and national myth in which Stewart argues that Iraq lacks the benefit of a strong national myth because the transition to democracy was externally imposed. Unfortunately, this discussion ends up on the cutting room floor. But one benefit of attending a live taping is that you get to see the interviews in full. Because “The Daily Show” is only thirty minutes long (and only half of it is interview), the guests are barely warmed up by the time closing credits roll around. In the studio, you have access to the sometimes unaired but often meatier interview portions.

“The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” remains a hilarious and relevant television mainstay even after thirteen years. Through Stewart, frustrated progressives can feel validated despite a media landscape that is largely indifferent to their concerns. More importantly, “The Daily Show” is a space to laugh.

The Daily Show studio is located at 733 11th Avenue, Manhattan, NY 10019. Tickets are free of charge, but must be reserved weeks in advance online. Learn more at thedailyshow.com/tickets.