The Moment the Daily Show Found Its Voice

It came during a Steve Carell interview with John McCain
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 3, 2016 6:04 PM CDT

Jon Stewart took over as host of the Daily Show in January 1999, but when did the program truly start becoming the Daily Show that legions of fans would come to love? Try December of that year, when Steve Carell boarded John McCain's campaign bus "and changed the entire trajectory" of the show, writes Chris Smith at Vanity Fair. The article is a fascinating oral history of the show's beginning that includes interviews with Stewart, Carell, Stephen Colbert, and pretty much everyone involved. The first year was rough for Stewart as he fought with the holdover writing staff from previous host Craig Kilborn and sought to put his stamp on the show. Things came together in that Carell interview, in which he peppers McCain with softball questions, then springs a policy zinger. After a few seconds of awkward silence, Carell says, "I was just kidding! I don’t even know what that means!" And the tense moment subsides. (See the clip.)

  • Carell: "It was making fun of a gotcha moment. And I think that a lot of what we do on The Daily Show is making fun of journalistic tropes, and I think that was one of them."
  • Head writer Ben Karlin: "I remember seeing it in the editing room. I remember Jon called me down, and seeing it and thinking, Yeah, this is what we should be doing. This is the goal. It was one of Carell’s most incredible moments. He asks McCain a question in a way that no journalists were talking to the candidates. And it was like, Oh s---, we are able, in this weird, unintentional way, to add a level of insight to the process that doesn’t exist. That was really, really exciting."
Click for the full piece, in which Stewart talks about how that 2000 campaign provided his "aha moment" of how to present the show—by "deconstructing the process." (More The Daily Show stories.)

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