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[Readings]

Soul Check

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From The Daily Show (The Book), which was published in November by Grand Central Publishing. Elliott Kalan was a writer on the show, and Rob Corddry, Ed Helms, and Stephen Colbert were correspondents. Jon Stewart was the host from 1999 to 2015.

elliott kalan: We were shooting a piece where Rob Corddry had to walk down the street in a Klan outfit. We were waiting for him in a Dunkin’ Donuts, and he was like, “I can’t do this bit. I can see the way people are looking at me. It’s too raw.” So we rewrote it. He dressed as Hitler. For some reason Hitler was not as real, and people on the street could react with “What?” as opposed to anger.

rob corddry: Dressing up as Hitler was still bad. I was out there and realized that this could get ugly. I came back to the studio and Jon said, “Aw, c’mon, get back in the Hitler costume.” It was the one time I said no to him. Colbert gave me two invaluable pieces of advice for doing field pieces. The first was, “Check your soul at the door.”

ed helms: When you’re in the middle of an interview, your instinct is to be kind and gracious. You have to squash that instinct, which often leads to significant discomfort on the part of your interview subject and yourself. But it’s all in the service of irony.

stephen colbert: I would say, “Get a nice hanger — a wooden hanger, something with padded shoulders. Take your soul off and hang it on the hanger. Don’t fold it up or leave it crumpled on the floor or put it on a wire hanger. Don’t forget where you put it. Then go out on the road and do these interviews.” When you’re in the field, you’re in the character of a correspondent who has no interest other than getting what he needs. Your relationship with the people you’re talking to is purely parasitic. You are going to suck them like a lamprey until their brain and their soul are as dry as a crouton. That behavior has got to be cold-blooded. When you’re doing it you might get it on you — get the badness of what you’re doing on you — and you don’t want that on your soul. Take it off before you go, and put your soul back on when you watch the footage. Because then you have the opportunity to exercise your ethics over what you did in the field and not put on the air what you think is unethical or is not comedy or is not fair to the subject. But when you’re out there you have to be able to seize on an opportunity carnivorously. You’ve got one responsibility, which is to come back with a story that you intend to tell no matter what the truth is. You’ve made a promise to Jon and the other producers that you will go get this story come hell or high water. So that’s why I would say, “Take your soul off before you go.” Your soul will go, “They seem like nice people, stop making fun of bigfoot.” No: you’re there to make fun of bigfoot.

corddry: Colbert’s second piece of advice was, “When you’re traveling, make sure you spend all of your per diem.”


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February 2017