‘The Daily Show’ tunes in for Granite State primary

January 25, 2004 | The Union Leader and New Hampshire Sunday News

by the Sunday News Staff

Four years ago, when Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” covered the New Hampshire Presidential primary, “Nobody knew who we were,” recalls Stephen Colbert, a “correspondent” for the self-described “fake news show.”

Things have changed.

This time around, “The Daily Show,” host Jon Stewart and its on-air comedians-turned-correspondents command a respect among media types and politicians alike that belies the fact that the show — as Stewart himself points out a lot — is on “basic cable.”

Witness the lineup for last night’s “town hall” media panel discussion, hosted by Comedy Central at the Center of New Hampshire in Manchester: NBC anchorman Tom Brokaw; Joe Klein, a senior writer for Time magazine and author of “Primary Colors”; former Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun, who recently dropped her Presidential bid — and New Hampshire’s junior senator, John Sununu.

Stewart moderated the “off-air” discussion, which took aim at the show’s two favorites topics: politics and the media.

Sununu on Friday joked he was “petrified” about appearing on the panel. He watches the show.

“It is tough, biting satire. I think we need that at a certain level, and I give Jon credit for being reasonably even-handed and distributing the fire.

“They’re pretty equal opportunity.”

Sununu said after he got the call from Comedy Central asking if he would participate, he had a long talk with Stewart “and that was all the convincing I needed.”

“He’s got the funniest satire on television right now,” Sununu said. As for the panel, he said, “I think their goal is to actually delve into, in a light-hearted way, some of the questions about the way the media covers politics.”

Palindromic first

Colbert said he never met Sununu before last night. But he offered the Sunday News an “exclusive” insight about the senator and his father, who was chief of staff for the first President George Bush. “The Sununus — they’re a palindromic father-son combination. That’s a first.”

So why would media stars like Brokaw and Klein agree to participate?

Colbert thinks he understands: “I think they talk to us because they understand there are aspects of modern broadcast media that are farcical and they like that we make fun of it. Because I think they make fun of it off-camera.”

Colbert said “The Daily Show” staff is here in New Hampshire this weekend “to get some idea from the people who are really covering it what their take is on the different candidates, and how they see the next year laying out.”

Basic cable basics

For the uninitiated: “The Daily Show” is a half-hour mock news show, complete with anchorman Stewart, real video clips from the day’s news, and reports from correspondents “on location.” There’s also a nightly guest, who is as likely to be a starlet promoting her latest movie as a Presidential candidate or television anchorman.

So why should anyone listen to them?

“You shouldn’t listen to us at all if you’re looking for information,” Colbert said. “We don’t take ourselves seriously on any level; we’re just comedians.”

But he went on, “I’m a huge news junkie. I love what the news does. And we’re a shadow, a reflection, of what’s happening in the real news.”

Dashing hopes

“Daily Show” correspondent Rob Corddry has been in Manchester since Friday. The first day, he hung out at the Merrimack Restaurant, interviewed CNN’s Wolf Blitzer and Jeff Richardson, then headed for Sen. Joe Lieberman’s headquarters on Elm Street. “And we basically dashed the dreams of a bunch of young Lieberman supporters . . . their wide, empty eyes searching for something to believe in . . .

“All in a day’s work,” he pronounced.

Ask Colbert a question and he’s likely to respond first with mock seriousness (“When I was covering Eisenhower’s reelection campaign . . . ”) and then follow up with a biting — and really funny — political observation.

  • On Rep. Dennis Kucinich’s performance in Thursday’s debate: “I think it was a bold move for Kucinich to send a puppet facsimile of himself last night.”

  • On Gen. Wesley Clark: “He said if someone questioned his patriotism, he would kick their ass. And I think, just for ratings, someone should question his patriotism. Just to see him bring his Kosovo-conquering hand down on someone.”

  • On Sen. Joe Lieberman’s pledge to protect “to the death” the New Hampshire primary: “I think at that moment he would have been willing to move the nation’s capital to Manchester in order to get votes.”

  • On Michael Moore’s endorsement of Clark: “New Hampshire is full of white men. Why would you want someone who’s the author of ‘Stupid White Men’?”

  • On Sen. John Kerry, post-Iowa: “He’s a little less cadaverous than he used to be. It’s amazing what trouncing your opponent can do for your ego.”

  • On winners and losers: “I think this race is impossible to handicap . . . It’s like handicapping a coin toss.”

Old Man limits

Could any topic possibly be off-limits for these folks? Turns out there’s at least one.

Corddry said he tried to write a joke about the Old Man of the Mountain to ask Granite Staters while he’s here. “And I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t go through with it. It just wasn’t funny.”

Corddry said his mother’s family is from the North Country; his grandfather, Robert O. Sullivan, is an avid collector of memorabilia about the White Mountains.

He and his wife drove up to Gorham just after Christmas. “I missed driving up that road and seeing the Old Man,” he said.

The other primary

So what question would “The Daily Show” have asked at Thursday’s debate at Saint Anselm College? Colbert said his would have been a follow-up question to the Rev. Al Sharpton, who was asked why he hadn’t spent more time in New Hampshire.

“He said, ‘I actually have been in New Hampshire and I plan to be here after the primary and to come back.’ And my question would be, ‘And why would that be? Are you going after that elusive I-didn’t-vote-in-the-primary-vote-so-now-I’ll-vote-in-your-own private-primary?’

“That’s what I’m looking forward to, frankly, is covering the reverend in his post-primary tour of New Hampshire.”

Loud and clear

What would Colbert like to ask former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean if he gets a chance this weekend? “The media tries to portray you as an angry candidate. Doesn’t that (deleted) you off?”

Colbert said the best moment in the campaign so far would have to be Dean’s now-infamous post-Iowa speech “because clearly everybody was captivated by it.”

“I think that’s an argument why he should be President, because he can capture everyone’s attention.

“Listen, George Bush was a cheerleader. I’m sure he screamed like that when he was at Yale, and I don’t see why that disqualifies someone from being President. But George Bush did it in a human pyramid.”

Still, he said, contrary to what some pundits are saying, it may not be a death knell for Dean. The six weeks between now and Super Tuesday amounts to “a lifetime” the way this Presidential contest is going.

For example, Colbert said, he was supposed to interview John Kerry on his campaign bus in Iowa a week ago. It didn’t happen. “Because suddenly, he took an eight-point leap in the polls and he was riding on a helicopter, not a bus. And I wasn’t invited on the helicopter.”

Colbert said he’ll be in New Hampshire until tonight; then he’ll head back to New York to tape next week’s shows. So when they report “live from New Hampshire,” they’ll be standing in front of green screens, with projected images “of the capitol building, and of farms,” shot while they were here.

“I don’t know why every news show doesn’t,” he mused.

Wry on white

“The Daily Show” folks scoff at critics who say New Hampshire has too much power in deciding the next President, and lacks the racial diversity to represent the country.

“I’d like to point out to them there are many shades of white people here,” said Corddry. “There are Catholics, there are Episcopalians, there are Presbyterians. I saw a guy with a tan today . . . It’s a melting pot — a creamy, creamy melting pot.

“New Hampshire is the bedrock of this country,” declared Colbert. “I think there should only be Iowa and New Hampshire. As we move on from there, we’re just wasting money. After that, it’s just a show. . .”

© 2004 - The Union Leader and New Hampshire Sunday News