My attendance to the taping of the show's first episode, being broadcast tonight through Friday in Tampa, was unplanned. I happened to be next door at Carol Morsani Hall for another RNC event — a screening reception hosted by Students First of the parent-teacher empowerment film Won't Back Down.
Still shaking off the shudder of after-film panelist Gov. Jeb Bush praising current Gov. Scott's teacher accountability measures (story and review to come), I happened to pass the entrance to the
Jaeb Ferguson and nabbed stand-by admission just moments before the Daily Show crew closed entry.
My advice: It's worth a shot to show up for the subsequent tapings this week if you don't already have tickets. Show up no later than 6 p.m. Of course, the earlier, the better.
CL Contributing Photographer Daniel Veintimilla and I waited for around an hour once seated. HD monitors with show graphics hung from the ceiling. Later they would provide our only shot of Jon Stewart because, from our vantage point in the back of the audience. The host spoke to a camera and teleprompter directly in front of him, and crowd shots, and a camera on an electronic remote-controlled jib arm glided over the audience liked the appendage of an alien mother spider. Onstage a partition showed off a lighted panorama of Tampa to the left of Stewart's desk with snazzy graphics that included an elephant at the upper left. It seemed to be defecating a continuous stream of stars.
A comedian warmed up the crowd and Stewart came out before the taping begun. He did the standard stand-up fallback, the ask-them-their-name-and-where-they're-from shtick with the audience members down in front. He ridiculed one young attendee, an 18-year-old "who looked 50" because of his jacket and tie. Funny enough, it was Daniel Capshaw, son of WMNF DJ/volunteer and longtime friend Beverly Capshaw. He attended with WMNF DJ Jennifer Hollowell.
Stewart also talked to the crowd before the show started. He fielded questions from the audience; as Stewart is as funny off the cuff as when aided by writers (something I learned earlier this year at his performance at Ruth Eckerd Hall last April). When invited by a college student in the back to a University of Tampa party, he accepted and said, "I would totally be the creepy out-of-place older guy at UT." Another audience member asked what how he deals with guests with opposing viewpoints, such as U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). Stewart said that Rubio was making his third appearance on the show and wasn't sure if they had anything left to talk about. "We're just going to hold each other," Stewart said.
Stewart praised Daily Show audiences for being respectful of the conversational interplay between him and guests that don't share his demo's left leaning sympathies but warned everyone not to be "dickheads." He also praised his crew for all their hard work setting up the show and asked the audience to give them a hand.
The opening credits came on the monitors with announcer Drew Birns' introdution: "A party too patriotic for facts, a candidate too successful for taxes, a city too humid to breathe," and the show began with correspondents John Oliver, Jessica Williams, Jason Jones and Samantha Bee "on location"; well, actually, in front of green screens. But we could see the shots as they appeared to the TV viewers on the monitors. Oliver, in one of his signature rants, reported from a dreary Grant Park where the temperature resembled a "subway platform in Haiti," a place only inhabitable by an insect in an Indian Jones film.
Williams reported from New Orleans and got big laughs when she declared that "Barack Obama doesn't care about black people," recalling Kanye West's infamous admonishment of President Bush post-Hurricane Katrina.
Correspondent Jones enjoyed a lap dance in one of the area's strip clubs. He named off a slew of familiar names, and concluded with "Blame it on Bush." Stewart asked why, and Jones clarified that Blame It On Bush was another strip club.
After the correspondents' report, Stewart said, "One of those things wasn't real? What was in Jason's lap?"
The middle segment had Stewart making fun of politicians bemoaning split screens on CNN during a convention competing with a hurricane for coverage. He, of course, Rep. Todd Akin's to task for his recent comment about legitimate rape and the woman's powerful anatomical defense against rapist sperm, adding that vaginas under attack can also shoot tacks and an oil spill in a car chase, can be used as a wi-fi spot ... or convert standard DVDs to Blu-Ray. He also called out Fox's backlash that "the liberal media" was harping on it. Stewart said that Rep. Akin needed "one of those magic vaginas to protect him."
During his interview with Sen. Rubio, Stewart was gracious and friendly to the Florida politician, praising the state of Florida and thanking him and us for our hospitality. The first questions centered on Mitt Romney and the VP nomination. Stewart asked if his slated intro speech to Romney at the convention might be shortened because the party didn't want "charisma boy" to steal Mitt's thunder. Rubio took the jokes in stride, noting that the Republican presidential candidate for his improved image since his failed attempt to nab the nomination in 2008.
Stewart agreed that he wasn't wooden but perhaps more "clay-like."
In the second round of the interview (in its entirety on the show's website), Stewart questioned the validity of Rubio about his advocacy of corporate tax reform. Rubio maintained that his motivation was to help smaller-to-midsize company owners and provide incentives for American business investment. Stewart asserted that it was a naive assumption that reworking the tax structure would make a difference and that the same tax loopholes would help the wealthy and keep corporations setting up shop in other countries. Stewart also questioned Rubio on his continued support of the Cuba embargo, and Rubio stood his ground, using China as an example of how opening trade with an oppressive regime doesn't prevent the nation from ending its human rights violations (but didn't explain why it was okay to take that risk in China and not in Cuba). Though Rubio faltered at one point with a "You people all say that," the debate was friendly and civilized and ended on a humorous note when Stewart suggest that Sen. Rubio take over the job as boss of the state.
"Florida deserves a governor with hair," Stewart said.