The 'Daily' grind: Sharing Jon on the sidewalks of N.Y.
IN CONTRAST to every other MC Masala you've read, this column will be a straight recollection of a recent event. Warning!
I got tickets for a taping of "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart," and it was shockingly easy. I'd been denied a ticket via e-mail once or twice before, but a few weeks ago I called the last-minute ticket number on a Friday morning and got four tickets for a show the following week.
I now had to choose friends to invite to the taping. The etiquette of bestowing free tickets is dicey. "Oh, I would have skipped class if you'd told me;" or "No, no, of course you took your sister instead of me. I understand" — that sort of thing. Fortunately, I only have about three friends in New York anyway.
I invited two co-workers and an acquaintance, enjoyed a "Squee! Ohmigod Jon Stewart!" or two, e-mailed the logistics then took the day off from work so I could go stand in line early.
They start letting people in around 4:30 or 5 p.m., and suggest you arrive at 3 or so. I anticipated an escalating arms race of earliness and arrived at 12:30 with a book, half a sandwich and a nice thick coat. I sat alone, both at the front of and encompassing the line, for an hour and a half.
The part of Manhattan where Comedy Central tapes "The Daily Show" is not what they show on the opening credits. It's nowhere near the Empire State Building, the Brooklyn Bridge or any park I could see, Central or otherwise. In fact, it is so boring and nondescript that I stayed in one spot for five hours and can't remember a single sign, store or landmark.
New Yorkers walked dogs, a street vendor set up a hot dog cart and a driver left his car alarm on, and it wailed every time a taxi sped close by.
The book that kept me company on a cold December day: Tracy Kidder's lovely and thoughtful "House." Kidder likes to follow people as they do a project, from start to finish. His "The Soul of a New Machine" is a classic document of engineers building a microchip. "House" shows us an architect, a construction company and their clients as they build a new home in 1980s Massachusetts.
Sadly, TV's Dr. House does not make an appearance. I suspect the construction workers could put him in his place in two minutes.
At 2, a family group from Atlanta became the second, third and fourth women in line. We exchanged some pleasant patter about things to do in New York, our families, our respective accents and how passionately New Yorkers give directions to anyone seen holding a map.
One of them mentioned in passing that her husband had been serving in Afghanistan and had converted her to the Church of Jon. I studiously avoided talking about politics or the wars. Maybe Oprah could have danced through that minefield, but I couldn't.
The line grew. Like a half-price traveler, I felt embarrassed that I'd gotten the tickets so easily, compared to the folks 50 people back. My friends joined me, it grew dark and we waited past sunset.
We waited past 4:30, past 5, then filed quickly into our seats. I've only ever seen two other soundstages: the Fox Kids stage in Sacramento (dear God, please let no one dig up my appearance from the early'90s) and the public access stage at Comcast's building in Stockton. I worked there behind the scenes on "Talking It Through with John Morearty: Dialogues on War and Peace" before I went off to college. Many fond memories of taping that show bubbled up as I saw the three cameras surrounding Stewart's desk. But that's another column.
Loud rock music tried to keep our energy up. A warm-up guy got us to exercise our lungs, telling us to make a lot of noise for the microphones while we turned off our cell phones because the mics were so sensitive. Mine was the only laugh I heard at that.
The show itself was as good as any other "Daily Show." Stewart from 20 feet away looks just as he does on your TV screen. We saw him shuffle papers between acts, and we heard the curse words unbleeped. But the main thing I remember was that my laughter mattered, not just to one comic standing on a stage, but to help a national audience enjoying our show, together.
Sumana Harihareswara writes for Bay Area Living each week. You can write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.