Oprah: I beg to differ. There are many people who realize you have a talent they don't have.
Jon: Do you mind if I put you on the phone with my father right now so you could repeat that last sentence to him?
Oprah: Oh, absolutely. You say what everybody else is thinking but can't articulate, in a way that makes people laugh. That's a gift. Chris Rock also has it.
Jon: Chris is unbelievable. I'm very able to appreciate it in other people.
Oprah: So who impresses you as a comedian?
Jon: Chris. David Letterman, Garry Shandling, Adam Sandler.
Oprah: What's a typical workday like for you?
Jon: We usually work ahead—being a fake news program is a huge advantage. On a weekday morning, we might think of the most visceral aspect of the Iraqi elections—like "Now that we've had an election, we can leave." What's the best way to express that through stand-up? Someone might throw out an idea: Could we have the correspondent stand in front of a green screen that's moving? And on the reveal, you'd see he's doing his commentary while running the heck out of Iraq. But then we figure out, okay, we can't do that. It's all about having an ear for the right idea.
Oprah: Did you know that when you took over the show?
Jon: No. I just knew I wanted to do something different.
Oprah: But I've heard the staff wasn't with you on that?
Jon: That's correct. Tracey can attest. Many times she'd find me in the living room at 4 in the morning, smoking and having arguments with myself.
Oprah: How did you convince them to go your way?
Jon: I didn't. Those who were with me stayed; others left.
Oprah: Was it a conscious decision to move to politics?
Jon: It was a conscious decision to move to relevance—to make the show something people care about. I had done a talk show where it was, "Ladies and gentlemen, tonight we're doing three segments instead of two with Maria Conchita Alonso. Because it turns out the guy with the falcons is not going to come tonight." I thought, This can't be how I live my life. So I decided not to give a crap about what anybody else thought anymore. I did what I wanted to do, with like-minded people who'd bring passion, competence, and creativity to it.
Oprah: Did you feel that even when people started walking out?
Jon: I can't tell you how relieved I was when people started walking. I didn't have to fire them.
Oprah: I hate firing.
Jon: But anytime you can weed out crazy and bring in sane, it's worth it. A friend of mine used to say, "Why shouldn't a good person get the job? Why shouldn't competence be rewarded?" So I brought in Ben Karlin, a guy from The Onion [an online newspaper parody], and Stephen Colbert, and we developed a team that felt right. We got better at structuring the show. I always hear quarterbacks say the difference in the NFL now is the speed of the game. The difference in The Daily Show is the speed with which you have to digest material and turn it into a comedy-like pulp. When you look at Johnny Carson's old shows, you want to smoke a pipe, have a cup of tea, and relax. But our show moves. That's how TV is now.
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