By Jennifer Burns
More Face Time with Everyone: Backstage at The Daily Show was a blur; I had no sooner arrived than I was in make-up, met Jon, and was heading out into the lights. By contrast, I had lots of time at The Colbert Report to see the stage, meet the producers, and chat with sundry tech people. And I got way more face time with Stephen Colbert! “I’m not my character!” was pretty much the first thing he said to me. He explained that he would feign willful ignorance and my job was to educate him and the audience. And of course we talked about Ayn Rand. Colbert told me he read Anthem in a Christian ethics class in college, and then while backpacking in Europe traded somebody for Atlas Shrugged. But he only made it to the scene where Dagny discovers world renowned philosopher Dr. Hugh Akston flipping burgers at a roadside diner and recognizes his genius by the way he handled a spatula — this stretched credulity for Colbert and he gave up on reading the rest!
The Audience: The audience was a much more intimate part of The Colbert Report than The Daily Show, where guests make a grand entrance and can’t even see the audience because of the blinding lights. This time, I was seated on the set for about a minute beforehand in full view of the audience, and their laughter and response seemed a bigger part of the interview. While I was waiting to go on, I could hear everyone laughing uproariously, clearly having a great time, and that made me feel excited and ready.
The Host: The biggest difference, of course, is Jon vs. Stephen, but I had an unexpected reaction. Where most people seem to think Stephen Colbert would be a more difficult interview, I actually found him to be personally warmer and easier to talk to than Jon Stewart. Some of this was because I felt more confident the second time around. But the interview itself was also less serious and more of a performance, whereas on The Daily Show I felt I was being grilled by a formidable intellect. Before The Daily Show interview, the producer told me it would be extemporaneous, and that Jon didn’t have notes. But as I was waiting for my interview with Colbert to start, I was told he was finalizing his jokes. When I was seated on the set, I could see a detailed note card on Stephen’s side of the table. I’m pretty sure we veered off the script, but that level of planning was reassuring. The Colbert producer also did a great job of helping me understand what would create a good interview. Her top piece of advice (which I also heard at The Daily Show): “Don’t be funny!”
Author Jennifer Burns on The Colbert Report
Author Jennifer Burns on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
Jennifer Burns is Assistant Professor of History at Stanford University and the author of Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right. A nationally recognized authority on Rand and conservative thought, she has discussed her work on The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, Book TV, and has been interviewed on numerous radio programs. Read her previous blog post: “Top Three Questions About My Interview On The Daily Show”
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