After a long, intensive career in broadcasting, I went cold turkey on the medium and stopped watching television, except for news, football, and a few select programs. One of the select of the select, the only series on my DVR, is The Daily Show . Its appeal:
• Format: Pure television, rather than televised radio
• Intelligence level: Adult, rather than talking down to the audience
• Expression: Both sacred and profane, rather than bland pap
• Timeliness: Current, rather than designed for re-runs
• Point of view: Innovative, rather imitative
And, of course, Jon Stewart, the star and spirit behind the series, whose talent (and, frequently his humor) is over the top. I'm addicted to the show.
Yet, if I could offer one piece of advice to Jon, it would be to do more listening to his guests during interviews, and less interrupting. Jon's illustrious predecessor, Johnny Carson, the king of late night television, got as many laughs per minute as does Jon, but Johnny drew more out of his guests. The king's approach: listening and reacting; and his reaction, more often than not, was a silent mug.
Jon Stewart's rubbery face can mug with the best of them. His repertory of facial expressions is as broad as that of Red Skelton or Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. If you think about it, the comic talent of those classic clowns was as much in what they did, as in what they said. Silence is golden.
In an ironic twist of that aphorism, Jon Stewart took golden advantage of Barack Obama's silences. The president, as he often does in unscripted presentations, paused repeatedly before and during his thoughtful answers in a recent press conference. The Daily Show's video editors created two sequences that lampooned the president's pauses. One in which Stewart shouted counterpoint gags in the pauses, and another in which the editors strung together multiple pauses to make Obama appear halting and uncertain.
Jon Stewart's interruptions work for comedic purposes, but not in interviews.
Listen and react. It worked for Johnny Carson; it can work for Jon Stewart.