Christopher Henry "Chris" Smith is the U.S. Representative for New Jersey's 4th congressional district, serving since 1981. He is a member of the Republican Party. The district includes portions of Mercer, Monmouth and Ocean Counties. He is currently the dean of the New Jersey congressional delegation.
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Chris Smith is the author of newly-released The Daily Show (The Book)—the complete, uncensored history of the award-winning The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, as told by its correspondents, writers, and host. He is also a contributing editor at New York, where he has covered politics, sports, and entertainment. He lives with his wife, son, and daughter in Brooklyn.
Hi Mr. Smith. I hope you are doing well today and thanks for doing this. How long did it take to compile the complete history of The Daily Show?? And furthermore, did you and Jon become close at all while gathering all your data? I would love to hear how he is in person.
thanks, happy cadaver. the bulk of the reporting and writing of the book was done in seven months--a real sprint. but i first wrote about jon in 1993, and several more times when the daily show became a big deal, so in some senses i've been reporting it for 23 years. jon is very much what he appears to be on camera: funny as hell, smart as hell, occasionally self-righteous, but entirely down to earth.
Do you think The Daily Show still has a future? With Trevor Noah seemingly not inspiring much popularity and Jon Stewart supposedly coming out with a new show on HBO, what is your opinion on post Stewart TDS?
oh, most definitely trevor and the show have a future. one thing i tried to describe in the book, which is easy to forget all this time later, is that in jon's first year as daily show host many episodes weren't very good. he also had the benefit of working out the problems with very few people watching--cable was a tiny part of the TV world in 1999. trevor took over in just about the opposite context--following a huge success, with a big civilian and media audience paying close attention. that's tough. not syrian refugee tough, but show biz tough. trump may turn out to be terrible for the country, but he's already given trevor and the show a needed target.
Thanks for the reply! A couple more if I may...
Do you have any fun anecdotes about the show that didn't make it into the book? Or any favourite moments from writing the book?
you may. there are a bunch of fun anecdotes that probably won't sound fun here, which is kind of why they're not in the book--they were more fun to hear out loud than they came across in print. one is about a joke jon made many years ago about billy joel announcing he was giving up playing his hits to write classical music. the joke on the show was something like, 'billy joel, have mastered rock, schlock, and crap, is moving on to classical.' not a great joke. but the truly funny part was that billy joel showed up, unannounced, at the daily show studio the next day asking to see jon. when billy--and his bodyguard--arrived in jon's office, he said he just wanted to prove he could take a joke. and the three of them stood there looking at each other, not sure what to do next. see--i told you it was funnier hearing jon tell it.
one of many favorite moments writing the book: josh lieb, a former daily show producer and writer who is now the showrunner for jimmy fallon's 'tonight' show, took me to the friar's club for dinner and his interview. nothing quite like sitting in a classic comedian's hangout, under a framed photo of dean martin, downing martinis with an extremely funny guy.
Huge fan of the daily show. Even went to one of its taping once. I stopped watching when Jon Stewart left, pesonally I don't like Trevor Noah's approach. I prefer Samantha Bee's show.
Do you think leftist show's like the daily show helped Trump win, in a somewhat indirect way?
hey! thanks gusmoreno15. it's possible, in some small way. the red states that swung the electoral college seem to have lots of folks who think the entertainment and journalism establishments are against them or out of touch. but i think the media in general is getting too much credit/blame in the election. people with real lives and real problems made up their minds on their own. and it's important to remember that hillary got 2 million more votes--yeah, she lost, but a lot of those folks are likely daily show/bee/oliver watchers.
What the hell's up with Norm Macdonald's autobiography?
ha. haven't read it, but norm's definitely an acquired taste. interviewed him years ago, when he was on SNL, and thought he was really funny, but it takes a bit to get on norm's wavelength.
Do you think John Stewart staying in the Daily Show could have helped fight Trump's election?
fight it, sure. change it, no. the biggest possible effect i think jon could have had would have been to draw earlier, sharper attention to how a lot of the tv media, in particular, was giving trump free, unchallenged air time. maybe that would have toughened the tone of the coverage sooner.
Can you introduce me to Jon Stewart?
depends. how much cash is involved?
ah, i should leave the jokes to the professionals. but jon's out and about, so if you're ever passing through jersey, maybe you'll bump into him.
I live in jersey, and that'll be the day. Great book btw
thank you! really appreciate people reading it!
How did you come about writing the book on TDS? Did you approach them, or did they approach you?
fine question, signalptde. after jon decided he would be leaving the daily show, he asked me if i'd be interested in putting together an oral history. i'd know jon since 1993, written about the show a bunch of times, and most recently done a cover story about him and 'rosewater,' the movie jon wrote and directed. so i guess he thought i knew what i was doing. ha.
What was the process like to involve the Daily Show staff in writing this book? After Jon Stewart left last year, what was the experience of seeing the staff reunite after so long?
with former daily show staff, it was a matter of tracking down folks who were on movie shoots (ed helms, steve carell, rob corddry) or working behind the scenes on a host of new shows (for instance, jo miller, a former daily show writer who is now exec producer of 'full frontal'). the staff, on camera and off, that stayed as trevor took over was incredibly cooperative as well, just incredibly busy ramping up the new era. folks in both groups were incredibly generous, though, both with interview time and in contributing the backstage photos we used in the book. for me, it was a year of sitting in a small room and dialing the phone a lot, then wading through thousands of pages of transcribing interviews. glamorous!
How did you bring a sense of cohesiveness and flow in the book from so many voices and input from all the staff?
thanks again. when the above tactics didn't work, it really came down to assembling a first draft, then a second, then going back for more interviews to fill in holes, then a third draft. wish there'd been a magic trick, but it was a lot of hours.
I haven't read the book (but definitely interested), but I was wondering how closely you worked with Jon (and the other writers/comedians) on this. What I always admired about him was his honesty, and how he always positioned himself as a funny idiot on a tv show as opposed to a non-biased news reporter (note that I don't see him as an idiot at all of course). I was wondering if Jon has any moments during his time on the show where he felt he messed up - like choosing the wrong approach to a certain subject, or taking a position on something he would later regret, or a guest appearance that, to his standards, went wrong. I love the guy and the show, but the 'bad' stories are always more fun ;). Any good stories there?
thanks, I'mthelibrarian. bunch of good questions there. jon was and is trying hard to be retired and spend time with his family. but he was totally accessible when i needed him--some interviews in person, most on the phone, about 20 altogether, ranging from 15 minutes to 3 hours. sure, he feels he and show made mistakes, more in approach than factually. a couple examples: treating the mainstream media with too much deference early on. getting too hostile during his infamous 'crossfire' appearance. not focusing on the financial news networks, particularly cnbc, soon enough. and perhaps most of all, which he goes into some detail about in the book, allowing donald rumsfeld to get off the hook when the former defense secretary was a guest on the daily show. oh, and lots of fashion choices.
How many times have you seen the Daily Show in person?
roughly eight. maybe ten. the studio experience was really interesting and different (duh) from watching the daily show on tv. primarily because of the interactions with the audience by jon and the correspondents. jon would take questions before each taping, and you really saw his standup skills on display. and there's just great energy when jessica williams or lewis black or jason jones are in the room with 200 people. you can seem them feeding off the crowd.
Firstly, just wanted to say that since discovering TDS a few months ago I haven't been able to get enough! Seriously, it's a problem.
I found out about it after watching recent youtube clips of Colbert and Oliver so I can't wait to read about where they began once my copy arrives here in the UK.
A cheeky question, but do you get the impression there were any bad feelings about John Oliver getting the summer hosting job over the other correspondents? Or the appointment of Trevor Noah for that matter?
most of the correspondents are ambitious, competitive people, so sure, several wanted the shot that oliver got. jason jones, in particular, seems to have felt slighted. the dynamic was somewhat different when the job went to trevor, because by that point many folks wanted to go make their own mark somewhere else, and knew that following jon was going to be a major challenge.
You made it seem so natural, as if everyone was in one room sitting together. How did you accomplish this organization while taking separate interviews and piecing together a narrative that was chronological?
thanks--that's a major compliment. sometimes it's because i did interview people in pairs or threes, because i wanted that conversational feeling. but most were solo interviews, so i tried to simulate the back and forth by telling, for instance, colbert what carell had said about him. or by choosing events where i knew there'd be multiple perspectives, like the jim cramer interview or the political conventions.
I'm suprised no one has asked this yet!
What's your opinion on the debate between Tomi Lahren and Trevor? Do you think any side "destroyed" the other like people keep saying? Or do you have a different view on it
no destruction, in my view. thought trevor made terrific, substantive points, and was a whole lot calmer than i would have been. tomi probably scored too, certainly with her fans, simply by appearing to have gone into the 'lion's den' of liberalism or whatever she called it. she's pretty slick, but there's no sugarcoating the ugly line she's selling.
what exactly is the "ugly line" she's selling?
that free speech is unpatriotic, that black lives matter is the new KKK...more generally, the 'us against them' narrative that fox news and others have perfected.
My name is Mark and I own the California Weed Blog.
Thanks for doing this AMA! Interesting topic as I myself am a Journalist. I'm sure this Stewart fellow you speak of has at least accomplished some of the things I have in this field such as being cited by LAist on a recent expose we pulished on illegal cannabis stores. So I'll cede your man that.
My question is How would you feel about a Man who wants to marry a weed plant. How should the law handle that? How do morals come into play as well?
my law license has lapsed, unfortunately. but if the plant is of age, i have no problem.