Civics in `America' comes with a twist

`Daily Show' crew like permanence of a book

September 22, 2004|By Roger Moore | Roger Moore,ORLANDO SENTINEL

Amid all the polemics and punditry crowding the shelves of your neighborhood book-selling monopoly this election season, there is now at least one happy antidote: America (The Book): A Citizen's Guide to Democracy Inaction, from the wits at Comedy Central's The Daily Show.

America (Warner Books) is a primer on the democracy most American voters turned their back on years ago when they stopped voting.

It offers a silly, smart and pointed history and civics lesson in the grand tradition of the almost venerable "fake news" show.

Modeled on today's ADD-inspired school textbooks, it includes a foreword from Thomas Jefferson (who, though 178 years dead, seeks a hookup with Halle Berry), and nine joke-crammed chapters with headings such as: "The President: King of Democracy," "Congress: Quagmire of Freedom" and "The Media: Democracy's Valiant Vulgarians."

Daily Show anchor Jon Stewart doesn't write all the show's cute put-downs himself, and America also took a village of talent to produce.

Ben Karlin, formerly head writer, now the show's executive producer, is one of the wags who makes Stewart funny, and is credited as co-author along with Stewart and David Javerbaum.

Karlin talked about the project from the New York offices of Comedy Central.

Why do a book? Can't you make the pretty pictures move on TV?

Well, while we love the immediacy of doing a TV show, we can't even remember what we did on the show last night, let alone a week ago. A book is eternal and pretty, and it's not just coding on a videotape. This allows for a completely different kind of humor.

And really, does Comedy Central let you use words such as "plutocrats," "oligarchy" and the like on the air?

Oh, they give us a wide berth on using fancy words. How effective they are in eliciting laughter is another thing. Do people laugh at "plutocrat"? Television demands a punchiness that a book doesn't have to have.

One thing that works just as well on TV as it does in the book is lists. The book's certainly full of those. Lists are funny.

Lists are funny. Charts are funny. Graphs are funnier. The head writer and me are from The Onion [humor magazine]. You can really work something out and cram a lot of jokes into a graph. That "What type of government suits you best?" chart [If "Socialist State" suits you, "your typical day" consists of "standing in line for tickets to the Toilet Paper Line."] - almost 100 jokes on two pages. We counted.

Who did the research, specifically, which staffer became the first TV writer in history to read Pericles, Socrates and Plato?

Thank God for the Internet. Plato who?

Seriously, what is your fondest hope for America (The Book)?

Everybody else's book is polemical, "We're right and they're wrong." "Rush Limbaugh is a big fat idiot." We're not that. We're a false objective, false scholarly, false serious thing. False. Just like the show is. And it looks cool.

We're hearing people are getting a lot more of their political opinions from entertainment. Will the TV show and the book have an impact on the election?

People are really, really polarized this year. But George Bush is a uniter, not a divider. So people are really, really wrong. What's wrong with people?

We're not going to impact the election. We give comfort to people of a certain opinion, but I don't think we'll change anybody's mind. The idiots.

We're in the same game as Michael Moore, I think. He's very entertaining, but polemical. We at least try to be objective, a distant cousin of objectivity. A very distant cousin.

A distant cousin?

Nobody's really objective. Not even Fox News.

The Orlando Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. Sun staff contributed to this article.

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