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SXSW: Secrets of 'The Daily Show' Revealed

by Stephen Becker 11 Mar 2012 1:45 PM

The show’s executive producer discusses how the staff is able to dredge up all of those clips of politicians contradicting themselves.


Rory Albanese

Rory Albanese, Executive Producer, The Daily Show With Jon Stewart (Eirik Helland Urke / (cc) Flickr)

AUSTIN – One of the hot panels at the Interactive portion of SXSW was one that focused on the confluence of the Internet, comedy and politics. With this being an election year, there is plenty of opportunity for those fields to intersect.

Among the panelists were a couple of comedians and Carol Hartsell, the comedy editor of the Huffington Post (cool job, huh?).

They talked about why comedy these days is largely the terrain of the left (short answer – there’s just more material emanating from the Republicans because of the never-ending nominating process) and how comedy affects the political process (it’s kind of the sugar that gets people interested and helps the medicine go down).

The star of the show was Rory Albanese – and with good reason. He’s the executive producer of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart – the alpha and omega of political comedy. As anyone who watches The Daily Show knows, one of its calling cards is playing its near-nightly game of political gotcha.

“I think one of the things we’re very good at is pointing out absurdity and juxtaposing different moments in people’s political careers and saying, ‘Well, we have a video clip of you saying this from four years ago and here you are today saying it this way’,” Albanese told me as we talked for a few minutes after the panel.
And that begs the question that I imagine lots of frequent watchers of The Daily Show probably wonder – How are they able to dig up all of those ancient clips?

Albanese says there are a couple of ways. First, if you work for the show, there’s an unwritten rule that you’re a news junkie – if you’re sitting on the couch at home, you’d best be watching those Sunday morning news talk shows and taking notes. And yes, there are people on staff whose job it is to take in all that CSPAN footage when they know something of note is being debated.

But the real secret weapon the show uses is software that enables producers to search the closed captioning of these shows for keywords and phrases. When they find what they are looking for, they can cut straight to the important part and skip all of the blabber.

And now you know how the sausage is made.