Thanks to an incredibly thoughtful friend, I got tickets to see “The Daily Show” tape here in DC yesterday and watched Jon Stewart interview the President live. The experience itself was a bit surreal. I’ve seen live tapings before. I’ve actually seen Stewart tape live before, back when he had a show on MTV. But this was unique in that I had never seen Barack Obama before in person.
We waited outside for about 2 hours before we could file into the theater. We were in the VIP line which – while a touch exhausting – was apparently not half as tiresome as having to wait in the general admission line which didn’t necessarily guarantee entry. Our biggest complaint was that the audience coordinators waited until right before the doors opened to tell us there would be no use of restroom facilities inside the venue. That led to a mass mad dash to a bar across the street as the front of the line started to work its way through security.
Once inside, we waited another half hour or so to be let into the theater itself. Then there was another long wait before the warm-up. All the hurrying up to wait was understandable as security had to sweep the building and then take its time with attendees, but it did feel like a very long afternoon.
It’s comical to see all the Monday (Thursday?) morning quarterbacking that went on today seeing as how very few of the people commenting on the interview were actually there. Stewart had a great opener that you didn’t see because the interview itself ran long. He kicked off with a segment called “Let’s Keep The President Waiting” and killed a few minutes with various stunts and a random local news report on National Pasta Day. Then he welcomed the President, and what you saw on TV began.
As someone who has been frustrated with this Administration, I thought Stewart did a great job. He pushed back at all the right moments and didn’t let the President get away with blanket statements like, “There are lots of things we’ve done that you don’t know about.” That got exactly the follow-up it deserved. The other two big slips were when Obama said Summers did a heck of a job (which while the President said it was an intentional pun, no one I was with believed that to be true), and when he said “Yes we can, but…” All in all, I thought Stewart navigated the interview beautifully.
Obama looked tired and defensive. I don’t know what he expected, but there were no softballs. And while much of what he said was true (or close to true), there were times I was not pleased. For example, when he said we got 90% of what we wanted in health care reform, and it’s not fair for people to dwell on the 10%, I was afraid the ultra-sensitive overhead mike might pick up the unladylike expletive I muttered under my breath.
When the interview ended and Obama took off, Stewart stuck around. He answered lots of questions from the audience and even indulged the couple launched at him from your typical DC d-bags. In response to one in particular, he had what I thought was the line of the night.
This young lawyer asked Stewart – and I’m totally paraphrasing from memory – if using the comedy card was working for him. The gist was to accuse Stewart of being a journalist but using the title of comedian to get away with stuff, and it was an atrociously thinly veiled reference to Stewart’s appearance on Crossfire more than 6 years ago. Dwell much, dude?
Anyway, Stewart explained that he is a comedian, and he and his staff proudly work on a show that uses comedy to draw attention to news and issues they care about very much. He explained that comedy often can be tougher than straight punditry (because he has to take the time to process and restructure in his head before he comments on something). And even though he has no interest in being anything other than exactly what he is, that does not preclude him from having the right to expect more from the media and call them out when they’re being lazy or unhelpful.
“I have a job,” he said. “I’d like them to do theirs.”
I’ve always adored Stewart for being a smart comedian, but after last night, I have a newfound appreciation for just how smart a man he really is.
Image courtesy is anonymous b/c pictures were strictly prohibited, and I don’t want to get anyone in trouble. But I can assure you this was taken inside the theater, and it was not taken by me.