‘Daily’ doses of droll discontent

Comedy Central’s popular political and media satire proves to be one of the most important voices of dissent around

by Steven Snyder

Anyone can tune into Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” and expect a few chuckles, but during the last few years, the show has also developed a sharper edge when it comes to the facts.

Under Stewart’s leadership, the program has drifted away from the “funny quips of the day” routine that can be found on so many late-night programs and instead aims straight for the most prominent political issues and guests of the day. This, in turn, has had two unexpected consequences: “The Daily Show” has become one of the few programs out there serving as a monitor and critic of the current news media, and because of its vigorous daily scrutinizing of headlines, it has become an unlikely place to also get one’s news, first-hand.

These are hardly revelatory words of praise. In the last year, publications from The New York Times to Entertainment Weekly have finally bestowed the program with the accolades it deserves. It is funny, opinionated, irreverent and above all, timely. And for audiences in blue states who are feeling squeezed out during this Republican tenure in Washington, and for all those who feel as if the nation’s news reporters and anchors are sounding more and more like the spinsters they claim to be above, “The Daily Show” is a nightly dose of optimism – that sanity does still prevail in the netherworld of cable.

The show released its first set of DVDs last week, a three-disc set focusing on the 2004 Democratic and Republican National Conventions. “The Daily Show” produced four programs during both events, and traveled to Boston last July to cover the Democratic National Convention live from Boston University. The final disc is composed of a number of bonus materials including a feature starring the show’s complete cast.

It’s a shame Comedy Central couldn’t have packaged a few of the series’ regular episodes together to fit in with this special coverage. While the economics of a DVD set requires there to be some special reason to buy, what makes “The Daily Show” so great is its day-to-day capturing of the casual corruption and hypocrisy of our government and the outright lunacy of our media.

Only a few weeks ago, in a classic example, Stewart chronicled the media’s inane and hysterical coverage of the Michael Jackson trial, finishing with a clip of Fox News’ Sean Hannity screaming, “You’re a freak!” repeatedly at an image of Jackson’s caravan on the highway. Even better, a few months back Stewart came down hard on CNN for hosting a two-side debate on whether adoptions by gay parents were “dangerous,” and then not having the facts to counter the flimsy and irresponsible arguments made by one guest. But he had the facts, and he not only showed up the anchors for the flashy stooges they are, but set the record straight.

Time and time again, the program captures how the modern broadcast media has mutated into uninformative, uninspired partisan bickering and how balanced coverage has come to mean inviting voices from each side and removing any objective, factual voice from the conversation.

Not to mention that it’s only probably thanks to “The Daily Show” that some college students have ever seen a clip from C-Span, or a moment from a Congressional hearing.

In its convention coverage, the show’s writers live up to expectations. They poke fun at the media in regard to shallow and trite “analysis” and the industry’s obsession over new technological toys. They capture the euphemisms, personal attacks and public relations fodder spewing forth from the convention’s presenters. Ultimately, they also acknowledge the outright irrelevance of the conventions themselves. The DVD set’s funniest segment involves correspondent Rob Corddry’s nostalgic trip around Boston, which turns out to have absolutely nothing to do with the convention at all.

What’s awkward, though, about choosing the conventions for this inaugural DVD release is that we can laugh at them even without Stewart’s help. They are more staged than news, more show than life, although “The Daily Show” still goes on to do what it does best, mocking this staged show, its many players and dropping poignant asides along the way.

Near the end of the first disc, Stewart appeals to his audience to now turn off the television until the debates and then Election Day. Don’t listen to the spin, the hype or the twisted sound bites, he says, but decide for yourself and cast your vote with a mind uncluttered.

As long as Stewart and his show are still here to unspin, dehype and untwist, there’s still hope.