Tuesday, September 10, 2002

HEADLINES! I'll be in the audience of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, taping this afternoon, airing at 11:00 pm (rerun at 12:30 am). The likelihood of your catching a glimpse of me is remote in the extreme, but if you want to give it a shot, I'll be the guy in the Home Movies cap.

(Bad luck of the draw: Tonight's guest will be Zach Braff, the star of NBC's "Scrubs." Consolation prize: Lewis Black.)

UPDATE: (Your Moment of Zen...) It's amazing, the illusions they can create with lenses. The Daily Show's studio is so tiny, the mice were ... well, the mice were amazed at how tiny it is. By comparison, Conan's studio is Yankee Stadium, and The Daily Show is the dugout.

Seriously, The Daily Show's studio is comparable to a mid-sized hotel conference room, occupying roughly a 35-foot by 35-foot square. A little over 1200 square feet. If that much. When Stephen Colbert is doing his green-screen "remote," it almost is a remote, because they've got him standing so nearly outside the studio that he might as well be. And the control room? -- heh-heh -- there is no friggin' control room! Just a couple of engineers working the boards right behind the audience risers.

The whole setup looks so rinky-dink that it could have passed for my college audio-video lab 25 years ago -- the only significant difference being the talent in front of the camera. (Oh -- and the cameras probably cost one-fiftieth as much, and represent about 20 magnitudes of qualitative improvement.)

And what of Zach Braff? We wuz robbed! We never saw him. Zach's segment was pre-recorded after one of last week's shows. And Lewis Black was either bumped, or the Comedy Central schedule was posted incorrectly. Boo.

But I'll say this about Jon Stewart: You see him reading copy off the teleprompter every day, so you think what's impressive is his impeccable delivery and comic timing. But when he's schmoozing with the audience pre-show, he's out there on the high-wire without a net -- and he is completely, utterly comfortable up there. It's like listening to a great jazz musician improvising, feeding off the crowd's vibes. You have no idea where he's going -- and he has no idea where you're going to lead him -- but not for a moment do you worry that he'll hit a sour note and embarrass himself.

Unlike, say, a Robin Williams who is compelled to channel his manic energy through various characters and alter-egos, Stewart is absolutely comfortable in his own skin. Unlike Letterman, he does not ooze contempt for his audience or seek to mine humor from their humiliation. And especially unlike Leno, he is not wholly dependent on a large writing staff to keep his material fresh. If all you've ever seen of Leno is The Tonight Show, you don't know how good his stand-up act really is -- but I've seen it three times, and it's pretty much the same great act, over and over again. Jon Stewart, I think, could probably wing it every night with no preparation, and more often than not, get away with it.

This guy is destined for bigger and better. And -- what a refreshing change of pace -- he knows it, and he's not afraid of it, and he doesn't hate himself for it.

DON'T RAISE THE BRIDGE - LOWER THE WATER! Here's a creative workaround for getting under a closed drawbridge. Don't try this at home. (Thanks, Dale Jones!)