Hey, guys, it's Mike Rowe. This is episode number 194 of the way I heard it, and it's called Jon Stewart Owes Me 20 dollars.
Jon Stewart Owes me twenty dollars. We start with the true story of a devoted son who was determined to redeem his irredeemable father no matter what the cost. It's a look also at the men behind bars, those who deserve to be there and those who don't. That's followed by a brief rumination on the difference between truth and authenticity, a recurring theme on this podcast and what that difference means here in the age of fake news.
Who do we trust, in other words, and why do we trust them? Why, for instance, was Jon Stewart, a fake newscaster, more trusted than Dan Rather and Anderson Cooper and Brian Williams?
Well, we know with Brian Williams, but you get the idea. He was Jon Stewart was the most trusted newsman back in 2008 and he wasn't even a newsman, for that matter. Why do financial reporters keep asking me, Mike Rowe, to weigh in on economic issues that I'm not really qualified to discuss? I don't have the answers, but I have a theory. And I talked to a director named Paul Pantoliano who might have something interesting to add to the conversation.
Paul's been working over at The Daily Show for the last 20 years and he had a front row seat to what happened to Jon Stewart when America started trusting a comedian to tell them the truth more than they did professional journalists.
It's a fun conversation will reflect on what might have happened had I hosted The Daily Show instead of Dirty Jobs, which spoiler alert very nearly happened.
It's episode 194 of The Way I heard it. Jon Stewart owes me twenty dollars and it all starts right now.
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This is the way I heard it.
Chapter 16, The Men Behind Bars. Jimmy ran a very successful business for a very large company and a very competitive industry after just two years. His revenues were in the tens of millions of dollars and his customers were hopelessly addicted. The boss was pleased, very pleased. But on February 12th, 1985, Nike turned up dead and things got complicated. Nikki wasn't the biggest earner on Jimmy's crew, but he was in many ways the most important. He wasn't just an earner.
He was the heart and soul of Jimmy's operation. And his death left a big hole, a hole that had to be filled immediately. But who could fill it? Jimmy set out to find a replacement for that which had been irreplaceable. At the same time, halfway across the country, an Indiana farm boy wrestled with a very different kind of challenge. Tracy's dad had been arrested for murder and sentenced to life in prison. Clearly, the conviction was a bum rap.
The state had spent millions of dollars prosecuting Tracy's dad, while the defense had spent less than 7000 dollars defending him.
Plus, the wise guy who'd allegedly hired the boy's dad to murder a judge had been released in some kind of plea bargain.
To top it all off, the judge who had condemned Tracy's father to a life behind bars, had been one of the victim's pallbearers. The whole setup stunk. Tracy was determined to get his dad an appeal, of course, that would require the services of a real lawyer, something that would cost real money.
So the 24 year old farm boy from Indiana did what he felt he had to do.
He assumed a new identity and went looking for the kind of job that paid the kind of money he needed. Tracy had no experience in this line of work, but he knew a few people who could possibly arrange a few introductions.
And one of those people knew a guy who introduced him to another guy who arranged for a meeting with Jimmy.
It was a pivotal moment for the kid from Indiana. There was no denying his nervousness when he walked into Jimmy's bar for a sit down. You know who I am, Tracy nodded, Yes, sir, you're Jimmy, though I'm not sure if that's what I should call you, sir. Jimmy smiled, the kid had an openness about him and undeniable Midwestern likability that could be useful, assuming he possessed other necessary qualities that could make up for the loss of Nikki's unique set of talents.
Jimmy and Tracy talked at length, then Jimmy introduced him to his crew, it was important that everyone be comfortable with Mickey's potential replacement essential. In fact, Jimmy even asked Tracy to have a brief conversation with a few of his best customers, including a psychiatrist, to get a better sense of how he might cope with the pressures and challenges of Jimmy's operation.
It was a leap of faith, sure, but decisions like that often are. So Jimmy hired the kid from Indiana to fill Nikki's shoes and to everyone's relief, Tracy fit right in. Not only did the work come naturally, the money was even better than he'd imagined a lot better. Before long, he had enough to hire the best attorneys in the country and set them to work reviewing the dubious case that had landed his dad in a maximum security prison.
Tracey would spend many years and many millions of dollars trying to get his father a second chance, but it was all for naught. Even the brilliant Alan Dershowitz with his Harvard Law School professorship and the team of legal eagles that he had assembled failed to get an appeal through the courts. Maybe it was because it wasn't the first time that Tracy's father had been charged with murder, nor was it the second time.
The truth is, Tracy's dad really was a hit man, a natural born killer, and even though the circumstances surrounding his final conviction were undeniably squishy, the totality of his life was not exactly consistent with that of a model citizen.
That was why he was denied his appeal. That's why he died behind bars 22 years after his son walked into one to interview for the job that changed his career. It's worth noting, though, that although Tracy worked at Jimmy's bar every day, he kept his dad's personal drama to himself. He knew that Jimmy's customers didn't want to hear a sad story about some kid from Indiana whose dad had turned out to be a murderer. They just wanted to relax and a friendly place where they all knew one another.
Tracy also knew that Jim Burrows had given him more than a chance to pour beer in America's favorite bar, he'd given him a chance to become America's favorite bartender, just as his predecessor, Nicky, had been Nicky Santo, the actor who'd given us a lovable character named Coach. That's how Charles Void Haralson wound up behind bars in a cold and lonely place where everybody knew his name. And that's how his son, Woodrow Tracy Harrelson, became Woody Boyd, a man who spent eight years in a much friendlier joint working behind the bar in a place called Cheers.
To live outside the law, you must be honest, that is a direct quote from Bob Dylan and it came to mind while I was sitting at the bar in Grumpy's writing the story you've just heard was Charles Harrelson, an honest man?
Was he honest with his fellow criminals or was he honest with his son, with himself? The bartender at Grumpy's had no answers, but wanted me to know that Bob Dylan was his favorite artist of all time, an absolute genius. He said, why don't you write a story about him? Did you know he won a Nobel Prize? I swallowed some anchor steam and nodded. I heard about that. I said, maybe I will. I never did write that story, but if I had, I'd have called it the big lie because Bob Dylan was not what you'd call a slave to the truth.
It's true Bob Dylan lied his way through countless press conferences, he swiped melodies, arrangements and lyrics from friends and forebears alike. His own memoir contains multiple lines lifted from various sources. And his Nobel Prize lecture in twenty seventeen contained 20 passages pilfered from the Sparks notes summary of Moby Dick. Even the quote I've just attributed to him is another way of saying honor among thieves. That concept was first discussed in Plato's Republic, then by Shakespeare and Henry the Fourth, and then in every movie ever made about the mob and the importance of not being a rat.
Which begs a bigger question why the hell would anyone ever believe anything Bob Dylan says? And that question reminds me of my good friend John Stuart. Long before fake news became a real problem for genuine journalists, there was a real show about genuine news with fake journalists. The Daily Show on that show, Jon Stewart lampooned every single pretense of news production, the overly dramatic music, the movie trailer voiceovers, the ridiculous graphics, the desperate attempts by achingly earnest Anchorman to make us believe they weren't reading someone else's words off a teleprompter.
That was all perfect fodder for satire. But a funny thing happened to my friend Jon Stewart. The less earnest he appeared to be, the more trusted he became and the more trusted he became, the more seriously he was taken. It was fascinating to watch, especially when people disagreed with him. Hey, folks, he said, what's the problem here? I'm just a guy telling jokes. But now that everyone trusted him, no one believed him.
Poor John, he simply couldn't have it both ways. Suddenly, millions of people were turning to The Daily Show for actual news, Jon Stewart was more trusted than every actual anchorman out there, and Comedy Central was more credible than Fox and CNN. Is it any wonder fake news became a real thing? Speaking of lies, let's assume for a moment that no one on television tells the truth ever trust me on this one. It's not a stretch. One day I appear on your TV screen and say, hi, I'm Mike Rowe and I'm lying to you with that statement.
Be true. It couldn't be right, because by definition, everyone on TV lies all of the time. But if I confess that I'm lying in a place where no one ever tells the truth. Wouldn't that make my confession fundamentally honest? If so, would it not therefore be more accurate to say that the only way to be completely authentic in a place where everybody lies is to never tell the truth?
The answer, my friend, is Blowin in the Wind, but I take comfort in something my father used to say, a promise made is a debt unpaid. When it comes to trustworthiness, that strikes me as a sensible statement, but down here at Grumpy's, where I like to go after explaining how the universe works to my trillions of viewers, my ethics tend to be a bit more situational. So I'm going to have one more anchor steam and think seriously about the pros and cons of plagiarizing the next chapter and dedicating it to my good friend Bob Dylan.
Big news, everybody got a brand new sponsor to talk about here on the way, I heard it fit Bod. Yeah, yeah, that's Chuck. Chuck's very excited by footboard. It's a fitness app that you download onto your phone and then it tells you what to do. And if Chuck's any indication, well, I mean, your big fat ass is not nearly as big or as fat as it was.
That is correct. It is not. Now, this is due in part to your diligence over the lockdown. Chuck walked a couple hours every morning and lost, what, 30 pounds, 30 pounds. Yeah. And now is just a big, fleshy bag of skin and bones. You need some toning.
So you've been at it now with the fit bod for, what, a month? Yeah, four weeks.
And it's great. It's super easy to use. You just download the app, it'll ask you questions like what equipment do you have? And all I have at my house are some dumbbells. And so I say I have dumbbells and just the weight of my own fat ass. And it basically creates exercises to use dumbbells in the weight of my fat ass. Right. And then I do those exercises and it's super easy. Sometimes you don't know what the exercise is.
They have these little videos that show you perfect form of the exercises right there in the app. And then you log a set and then a timer, you know, starts ticking because you need to rest in between your reps and then it dings and then you do your next one. And then when the x when the the whole workout is over, it asks you, was it hard, was it easy? You sort of rate it and then based upon your answers, it adjusts the workout to you for that for the next time.
See, I'm inherently skeptical of most things that need to be downloaded, but I do think this is a great idea. Honestly, gym memberships are too expensive. Nobody's going to gyms anymore anyway, and personal trainers are out of the reach of most people. So this is a little motivation in your pocket. And, you know, I, I mean, obviously it's working for people and I'm really glad it worked for you. And and I bet it can work for everybody.
Listening fit bod dot me. Mike saved 25 percent of the sixty dollars annual fee. Yeah. At footboard dot me Mike or saved twenty five percent off the 999 monthly fee. If you don't want to sign up for the membership or just do it for free. Fit bod dot me Mike. You get three customized workouts, download the app, see what you think. Nothing I can say, or for that matter the site of choux. Now skinny ass will inspire you more than trying it for yourself.
Ad fit bod that's fit body dot m e slash mike. Anything else. Chuck that I miss anything. It's McAvey for Mike. Yes. My God. What a pedant. All right then. Here we go.
OK, so, Mike, I noticed something about this previous chapter that we've just heard, and that is you seem to be seem to be stretching the truth just a little bit. Trillions of fans, your friends with Jon Stewart. These are things I didn't know.
Well, yeah, Jon and I met once or twice. We're friendly. Trillions of fans might be gilding the lily just a tad, but Bob Dylan is a liar guaranteed on that. No, look, this was it's it's kind of a confusing chapter. It's almost worth listening to twice. In fact, I, I had to, but I wrote it the way I wrote it, because this is where the book for me anyway starts to talk to itself.
And the big idea in the chapter is to juxtapose the differences between truth and authenticity. You can be incorrect and still be authentic and learning. That has always been kind of interesting for me. So yeah, I dropped Bob Dylan's name because many people still consider him to be one of the most authentic musicians of all time, but he plagiarizes all over the place. Always has, and he makes no apologies for it.
The other thing about this chapter, too, is you mentioned Jon Stewart and you mentioned The Daily Show. And you and Jon Stewart, I would say, share a bit of interesting real estate in the American Zite, Gaist, because you guys both were on hit shows about the same time, about the same age.
And you both, as a result of that, got to be known as very trustworthy people.
Isn't that true?
Well, I mean, opinions vary, obviously. But if you look at the list and the polls and the surveys. Yeah, that that caught my eye years ago. Jon Stewart in 2008 was more trusted in the journalism business than Brian Williams, Anderson Cooper, Dan Rather, all of them crazy. He he was rated the number four most trusted journalist, I think, of all time.
And he's not even a journalist and he's not a journalist. Right. And so that same year, Forbes rated me the number four most trusted celebrity. Now, you know why? Why in the world did that happen? Partly because discovery is a great brand and people trust them and partly because Ford is a great brand. And I was working closely with them. So I got a little of that on me. You know, partly I think you see a guy crawling through a sewer covered in other people's crap.
He's probably not lying to you. I mean, why would he write in the sewer, for God's sakes? But the bigger question is not what happens to the host of a show that gets very popular. When a show gets popular, the host becomes a celebrity.
That's the point that I wanted to make, that you you were a celebrity, made a celebrity by dirty jobs in the same way that Jon Stewart was made a celebrity by The Daily Show. And when someone becomes a celebrity, you expect a certain type of thing to happen as your buddy for a long time. What I noticed the greatest thing was, is that we never had to pay for beers anymore wherever we went, because people always wanted to buy you beers and they would buy me a beer because I was there with you.
You're welcome. And that was great. I appreciate that. But things got really strange when financial reporters started to call you and ask you what you thought about the latest jobs numbers or, you know, a bill about skilled workers or the unemployment rate.
And then things just went off the hook when Congress asked you to testify before them. I mean, you're just a host of a TV show and Congress wants to know what you think about all those things. And all this takes place because you're on a medium where you've just informed us that everybody lies.
That's right. But that doesn't mean everybody's an authentic and somewhere in that rumination is, I think, maybe something interesting to talk about. And we're going to talk in a minute to a guy named Paul Pantoliano, who's currently the the director on The Daily Show, New Jon Stewart, for years. And we have one degree of interesting separation I'll get to in a second. But to your main question, yeah, it's not really about what happens to a host who becomes a celebrity.
It's about what happens to that person when society changes. Right. It's not about being attached to a hit show is always going to get your free stuff. But when the show becomes a platform or a benchmark for something else, now suddenly The Apprentice on dirty jobs, the the forty eight year old smart Alec who crawls through sewers and gets paid for working on a show, is suddenly launching a foundation. And that foundation is getting its own attention and simply being.
Because of what I did on the show, I'm being asked to weigh in on the changing face of the modern day proletariat vis a vis the digital divide, my thoughts on the skills gap and currency devaluation and all these things, I'm so completely out of my lane that that I have to admit it.
But in admitting it, nobody threw me out of the room. It makes you more credible. So I think what I want to say is that in 2008, Jon Stewart was suddenly being looked at as a serious journalist. Right. And now I'm being looked at as a serious and credible spokesman for closing America's skills gap. And look, I don't I don't want any credit or blame. I just think that the odds that dirty jobs just got rebooted.
Is relevant, I think, to the fact that The Daily Show is still on the air. People still watch The Daily Show to get their news, and that says as much about the news industry, I think, as it does about anything else. But Jon and I both got caught up in something much larger than our individual shows or careers. And that's what I wanted to talk about.
Yes. And you share a little bit more than just the fact that you both are viewed by the public as trustworthy people. You share a little bit of Twilight Zone world material on the Venn diagram. Am I right?
You can't make it up, man. I mean, the truth is, I could have hosted The Daily Show, and I don't say that as if, boy, I really think I could have. I mean, I was hired to host The Daily Show twice, twice.
And wow, I haven't talked about this a lot. I have in the past just to sort of articulate what rejection feels like in this industry, because it was the absolute epitome of rejection for me. But in 1996, Madeline Smithburg, who was hired by Doug Herzog to to create a new show, embarked on a giant talent search.
She saw everybody, everybody on in L.A. and in New York. And I was living in both places back and forth at the time. So I auditioned for her twice. And then I got called back and then she offered me the job. It's yours, Mike. We're going to make a great show together. We want your point of view and we want your sense of humor. And this is going to be an entirely new thing. And I was very excited and she invited me to come in to meet the the writers on a Monday.
This was on a Friday. We had this conversation. She said, come in Monday, meet the writers and let's get started. So I was very excited and I walked in on Monday into the writers room and there were no writers in the writers room.
There was just Madeleine Smithburg sitting there looking very much like an unfunny person, you know?
And I said, what's up? And she said, Well, over the weekend, my boss, Doug Herzog, got Craig Kilborn out of his contract at ESPN.
Don't they always wanted Craig and ESPN finally let him out of it. And Craig took the job. So he was in. I was out. They offered me a correspondent role. I passed because Dick Clark was sniffing around and I thought it'd be better to host a game show than be a correspondent on a show that had never even aired yet.
And so I moved to L.A. and I thought that was that and it stung. It wasn't devastating. It was disappointing.
But then then what happened to so three years later? Craig Kilborn now has a show and the Comedy Central has a hit and they got a little heat behind them. And Tom Snyder retires from CBS and David Letterman hires Craig Kilborn to replace him. And just like that, The Daily Show needs a host. And I mean, they need it fast. Mm hmm. They are without a host.
This is late December ninety nine. And so they don't have time for a talent search. Now, they got to go to a proven entity or somebody that they always kind of liked.
So Madeline Smith, Berghaus says, like, you know, Craig is out. This job is yours. We all love you. We still have your old audition to we'd like you to come in and just do another screen test.
But the job's basically yours. So I go in. I do like a whole half hour, you know, and everybody looks at it. They're like, you crushed it. This is going to be great because now the show's already a hit. You're just going to take it and make it your own. Now, I'm really excited, dude. I mean, I'm really.
Yeah, this is it.
40 years old, you know, paid my dues. I'm ready to go. And she says the only way things could possibly go the other way is if her words, this cheap ass network comes up with a big pile of money for Norm MacDonald or Dennis Miller or Dana Carvey or somebody like that.
And so what happened, Mike? Well. His name was Jon Stewart, as I recall, that was a four million dollar deal that nobody in a million years thought Comedy Central would do a deal like that. But they did. They sure did. And I was out again.
Now that one hurt that I was going to say, how did that feel?
That one hurt because I knew that I didn't. It it wasn't just a job I had missed out on. I knew I had missed out on a potential platform that could be bigger than me. You know, all my jobs in the old days, remember, I touched everything like it was hot. I think, you know, I didn't care about the gig, this gig.
I cared about it. I didn't get it.
And you got a very a very famous letter from Matt creator Madelin. Yeah. Which you posted it on on on Facebook. And I, I think as mentioned by Paul Pantoliano in the interview.
And speaking of which, we should get to that now, I just wanted people to understand that the chapter in the book is there, because when I was writing it, what really became self-evident to me was this difference between trustworthiness, truth, authenticity. You know, the advent of fake news really began back in 2007, 2008. And when you look at where we are today and when you look at the levels of skepticism and when you look at what's going on with the canceling of the culture, you know, this is not a this is not a political conversation you're about to listen to.
But but it is a conversation, I think, about a couple of guys who found themselves attached to shows that turned out to be relevant in ways that nobody anticipated and what happened to them as a result. You really can't script this kind of thing.
And so we didn't I'm really glad to hear that. Yeah, since we did. His name's Paul Penitential.
He's about 60 years old. He's been directing great shows for decades. He has some smart stuff to say. It's a great conversation. I hope you dig it. So I'm sitting here on Zoome looking at my screen at the one and only appal penalty, you know, and Paul, you're in Arizona? No, I'm in Tucson, Arizona.
Everything as it should be in the great city of Tucson. Everything is as it should be. Mr. Roett, we're in early April and it's 94 here today, which is unseasonably toasty. And you don't want to be here in July and August.
Now, I've been there in July and August. And I said those very words out loud, by the way. It's it's Mr. Micro.
OK, I think, OK, over the years, I apologise. What just happened in the book was that I kind of like a little bit and describe Jon Stewart as my good friend. I've been on The Daily Show. I met Jon once, but I was trying to make this this larger point about certain shows that come along at certain times that wind up making people weirdly credible. And Jon Stewart became incredibly credible, incredibly fast. And the fact that he was considered I forget what year it was, but he was more trusted than any major anchor on any major news show.
And The Daily Show had become a more trusted source of news than ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, CNN, I mean, all of them. And it was such a crazy time. And you were there at that point. You would have been an associate director. And at the same time, now I'm hosting Dirty Jobs and Dirty Jobs is getting rated through the roof as well. And I'm being described as weirdly credible and part, I think, because I was the Ford guy at the time, but I was also working for Discovery.
And a lot of people love that network. And so, you know, I'm not comparing myself to Jon, but I am looking at it and saying, from your perspective, what was going on at The Daily Show that made it so unique and special circa 2007, 2008 and beyond?
Well, I think 9/11 changed everything. And I think it it it changed the the genre that I work in, certainly, you know, John was was and is extremely bright person, and I think he he evolved into the role and into the time. And also I think part of it was the news was doing such a terrible job. I don't think that John's mission was to go out and be more credible than Peter Jennings or or Brian Williams at the time.
It it just happened through the the events of the world news evolving into what I like to call the squabble culture. Follow the money. Right. The 24 hour news networks, I feel are the the worst thing to happen to America yet.
What did you think when John went on? What was a crossfire? Yes, it was Tucker and Paul Begala, I think. Yeah. Yeah. That was a big deal. I mean, a lot a lot of people watch that and it felt like it brought a lot more attention to The Daily Show.
I think that was I was talking to Chuck about that a couple of weeks ago. And I think that was that was the pivotal moment. And in his defense. You would often hear him say, hey, guys, I'm just a comedian. Yeah, right, but. It the beast. Changed all that, you know, when when he when he went on CROSSFIRE, and as you hear him tell the story now, in subsequent interviews, he said, I was just having a bad blood sugar day that day.
And he was ornery and I believe a little bit of that. But I think he was also in order to do the job of of The Daily Show host, you had to consume all of that psychological bilge on MSNBC, on FOX, CNN, on the squabble culture channels. And I think when he went on CROSSFIRE, he had told them, I think I'm quoting he he said you're you're ruining America.
And at the time I remember sitting, I wasn't watching it at home.
But everybody the next day at the office was talking about it. And I thought, that's a heck of a thing to say, especially when you're in somebody else's house.
Yeah, he was a guest on that show. Yeah. They were really taken aback and looking at it through the rearview mirror of that many years. There was something prophetic about that statement, you know?
Well, I mean, it wasn't I don't think anybody really pushed back against the idea that that level of squabbling was counterintuitive or maybe even counterproductive. I think the thing for John that was interesting was that he he appeared to verge out of his lane. Right. And I say this is a guy who gets accused of doing the same thing from time to time. He's a comedian and he's writing jokes. And he's always been quick to point that out whenever things get heated or controversial.
But at the same token, he's he's a man with an opinion and a platform. And he was there. He had a front row seat as the country was becoming more and more heated and more and more divided. And he could see it happening. And, you know, it's not, to me a question of whether he was right or wrong to say what he said. The pushback came because where does a comedian get off weighing in on something so consequential?
What does he really want to be? What does he really want to do with his platform? And I pointed out, because the same thing is happening now everywhere. You know, I run a foundation. And if I say something about infrastructure or about education or about the skills gap or any number of other things, well, I get a certain amount of permission to do that because of the foundation. But, you know, not a week goes by where somebody doesn't look back into my curriculum vitae and say, wait a second, the dirty jobs guy sang opera.
How is that possible? You know, this advocate for the trades was on a home shopping channel. How is that possible? It can't be possible. He must be a fraud because two people, you know, one person can't be two things at the same time. So that's a long way of saying I was sympathetic for John when all of a sudden he was getting a lot of pressure to speak about things that really had nothing to do with jokes.
And that must have been interesting to watch upclose.
It was interesting to watch, but I, I think he found himself in this chair. And initially, you remember, the mission of the show was not just to satirize the news. And this is where I thought Madeline Smithburg was was was brilliant in the way she created it and fleshed it out. It also and you pointed this out in the chapter, it also satirized the manner in which news people did their thing and the way they the way graphics were presented.
If you look at Colbert in those early in those early days, his character and this is coming from him, not me. He based it on St. Phillips. But I think I think John just found himself. The beast evolved around him rather than the other way around. And I, I, I'd have to ask him this. I don't know if he ever struggled internally with. Well, wait a second. I'm I'm no longer a comedian in the classic sense of the word.
And and I feel like, well, good for him. You know, he read the the way the wind was blowing and adjusted accordingly. Yeah. And I think and again, this would be a question for for him rather than me, but I feel like I, I was there long enough and through a lot of, you know, presidential cycles and national events. I think he's a very passionate person. And I think, you know, once the Iraq war.
War started, that's when things might have might have changed, where it perhaps became more of a mission oriented broadcast with a taste of comedy here and there, I just think it's fascinating once you realize you've got millions of people watching you for to be informed, not just to be entertained, but to be informed.
Right. You either pivot or you don't. You either stay in your lane or you don't. And on the other hand, sometimes and this is why I put it in the book, too, you know, Dirty Jobs was a silly little show where an apprentice would try and keep up with the work going on around him. That's that's all it was. Now, it did have an underlying mission, but it wasn't until the economy tanked in 2008 that the show became relevant in ways that the No.
One had thought and most recently with the lockdown and essential work and in the headlines were rebooting it because once again, the climate and the culture made it relevant in ways that no one imagined. The Daily Show was the same thing. It was just a little piece of fluff on a network that wasn't getting a whole lot of ratings. They were trying to get a toehold and they got on the air and Kilbane had a little heat and then he kind of eat their lunch.
And then I came in to audition and then I didn't get it. And neither did David Alan Grier and neither did Michael Keaton. Neither did a bunch of other guys who who gave it a shot? John did. He built it into something. But again, something larger changed, something shifted. And whatever that shift was a suspicion of the establishment, a suspicion of of fake news, a belief that we were being sold something a lack of authenticity.
I think you nailed it right there. I think that was that was essentially what it what it was. It was it was what are what are they what are they putting in our cereal?
What are what are these ingredients that I can't recognize. And they're making me fat and sick. I think that was when when something changed in him because he was his his mind was in is so analytical that I think part of it was like I said, it, it became certainly mission oriented. But I, I think the the bounty was right in front of them. And and he made it his own. Can I ask you a couple of questions about the book?
Sure. OK. I'm wondering if you have it. Is there any amount of money I can pay for the video of you that night in the tuxedo playing Mr. Bojangles?
No, there's no money. Do you ever go down this path where you think, well, what if I had gotten The Daily Show and where would I have taken it?
I can tell you what I think about the likelihood of what would have happened had I gotten the gig on The Daily Show. But I'm no less interested in what Jon Stewart would have done on dirty jobs. And I think because we're different people, you know, we have different opinions. We certainly come from different backgrounds. He could have turned dirty jobs into something more entertaining and fundamentally different simply because he would have written his own stuff. What I've made The Daily Show better.
No. No way. What? I've made it different. Sure. Because I wouldn't have simply read what somebody put in front of me.
But look, I mean, didn't he buttheads early on, wasn't there a real what their real problems with the existing writers to some degree? I mean, yes.
And that must've been the thing that was a sea change. There was a lot of well, that's not how we do it. Right. And I think for a while, admittedly, he was, oh, OK. And you can't as people that do what you do and what what he does, your writers, your storytellers, your performers, he could no longer ignore that. You got to be who you are. Dan Rather used to say that if you're in front of the camera long enough, you are who you are.
That's who you are.
Or it will define you. Yes.
If if if you don't know who you are, the camera will decide for you and the audience will absolutely confirm it. That's the crazy power, right? Yeah.
And I'm I'm not in front of the camera, but I am interested in what makes you guys tick because you're both alike in the sense that you're you're not going to play a part that somebody else has written you. You have to be who you are and listen to your own voice.
But look, I mean, this is interesting because I think John did a great impersonation of a host and a pretty good impersonation of an actor for a long time before he wound up in that chair. And I say this is a guy who spent 20 years impersonating a host. I hit the mark. I said the lines. I never I never owned it. You know, I touched everything like it was hot. And I was very happy with the trajectory of my career because I didn't give a damn about anything I was working on.
It wasn't until my mother gave me a hard time to do a show that looked like work for my pop.
It wasn't until things got very, very personal that all of a sudden things started to matter to me that never mattered before. Remember, I came out of infomercials, home shopping. I didn't I really didn't care. It just it didn't matter to me too much about the quality of the project. The quality of my work mattered. But the project itself didn't totally understand what you're saying. This to me is the seminal thing. Dirty jobs all of a sudden mattered to me more than my performance in it.
And that was a first.
And I felt like when I watched The Daily Show, looking at Jon, he understood that this thing suddenly had a bigger audience, it had a bigger mission and the stakes were suddenly higher. And that's when you have to break some eggs. In John's case, it sounds like he fired some writers and he pushed back against he pushed back against the network. You know, I had to do something similar. I stopped shooting second takes. I insisted a behind the scenes camera include the crew.
I didn't want the viewer to think we were producing a show. I wanted them to feel like they were out in the field and along for the ride. And that was heretical. That was a very, very tough sell at the time. But I felt like it mattered. And, you know, some hills you climb, some you die on.
Yeah, I think you probably had a that that dynamic was in place for you. But I would venture to say that to your point earlier, that this was a tiny network, Comedy Central.
No, nobody was watching it. So once Jon started to register a little blip on the EKG meter, I think Doug Herzog is a smart guy. And Doug said, Ho, let's let's let this guy run with the line, but I think it was probably easier for lack of a better word, for John to go that path than yours. You probably had a a tougher fight than he did.
I did, but only for a time, you know, and then there was a lot of push and pull. You know, you have a different kind of conversation when you're trying to get a show on the air, when you're trying to develop a hit than you do when you're trying to protect your flank.
And remember, for dirty jobs, that show was wildly off brand, the Discovery Channel. When that first went on the air, they were not delighted when it rated well, they weren't affirmatively rooting against it. They just didn't see it as a thing that was consistent with their brand. And when it became clear that people really wanted to see the show, then there was an existential crisis. Because, wait a second, what do you do when you realize that your customers don't like the thing you want them to like?
What did the GOP do when they realized that of the 17 candidates on the stage in twenty sixteen, the one that people were most interested in was the only one they didn't want them to be interested in?
So that that kind of cognitive dissonance is really interesting. And I don't think it happened at Comedy Central because Comedy Central is a place where they want funny content. And The Daily Show was funny and you could argue over the nuances and direction, but Dirty Jobs was an outlier and a free radical, and there were no other shows like that.
So to get a show that was off brand on the air and then ultimately see thirty or thirty five shows evolve from it. Right. Nobody gets credit for that, including me.
It just happened because in fits and starts we we all kept playing the cards. We were dealt as best we could. And what came out the other end right now in twenty, twenty one is a reboot for crying out loud.
Twenty years after the thing went on the air. Amazing. Can't make it up, you know. And meanwhile The Daily Show is still on and I'm still not hosting it.
Well, yeah. You know, the world has changed and it's changed very fast as it relates to the business we're in and comedy and news. And I've been doing this a long time, both in, you know, network control rooms. And as I think I told you in my little thing, I wrote that I took this job because I was exhausted. I wanted normal hours, but I don't know where news is going and I don't know where this satirical genre that I find myself currently in is going.
And sometimes I wonder if if the if in fact, the market saturated. Oh, sure.
It's saturated. Yeah, of course.
Look, you could fill a book with what I don't know. But I do know this I, I'm supposed to be somewhere at five o'clock and the next time you talk to your interns, I would be grateful if you if you found my old Facebook post and shared that story because you reminded me of it. Madelin Smithburg did write me a rejection letter for what at the time felt very much like my dream job. And those disappointments are real. They happen to everyone.
Yes, they do. I joke about it. A cushy job in a studio, a daily show, a platform like Jon had. But the truth is, Paul, I. I wouldn't trade the run I've had or dirty jobs for anything. And that never would have happened had Doug Herzog not had the good sense to tell Madeline Smithburg to hire Jon Stewart.
Yeah, I think about that story a lot and that letter and what that must have meant for you at that time. And I remember how big a blow that must have felt like when I was, you know, working three shifts as an add all over town. And you never wanted to say no because they'd stop calling you. I used to fill in a lot on The View, right when it was a new show. Barbara Walters Lisa Ling was actually got a lot of buzz back then when it first started.
And the director was a guy named Mark Gentille, and he brought me in a lot to add most of the road stuff they were doing at the time they were going on the road. And it was really a good popular show. It was new and their regular ad had announced that he was leaving. I knew Mark liked me a lot. I did a good Road Warrior Forum, OK, I now have after pounding the pavement for a decade and a half, I'm going to get this steady job.
I'm going to know when I look at that yearly calendar, there's going to be ten. Squares in July, where I can go on vacation, hadn't had that in 15 years. Well, I showed up to do a two week stint there. We had a camera meeting out in the studio and Mark said, hey, Paul, stick around for a minute. Listen, you know, I know you thought you were getting Andy's job, but I decided to go with John Keegan.
OK, I will still use you from time to time, you know, when there's an opening. All right. I'll see you in the control room.
And we were live back then and I got through the shell and I like I was on the floor. This is the end. This is it. I didn't get the job as the associate director on The View. It's all over. I was such a disaster. But if I had gotten that job, I probably wouldn't have stretched my wings as a director. And I don't know what's out there for me next. And I wouldn't be at all surprised if somewhere down the line you you were doing something very similar on a on a daily basis with a show of of that you made your own.
Well, look, it would be a terribly, terribly boring life if we could look into the future and and see exactly how it all played out. But you've had a hell of a run. You're a terrific director. You're a gentleman and a scholar. Thanks for coming on our little podcast. I I appreciate it. And next time you see Jon Stewart, tell him, don't forget about that. Twenty bucks he owes me. We're Roger. I will.
And this is fantastic. Truly a delightful read.
And you weave a yarn as good, if not better than Garrison Keillor.
Truly. That's some tall cotton. Well, thanks again. I really appreciate it. You take care. You do the same place right now. All right. The book, incidentally, to which Paul so kindly refers is the way I heard it, now available at Audible and wherever people download books, if you can't wait another week for the next chapter, you can go ahead and download it now and enjoy. I'll be back, though, next week with another interview.
In the meantime, if you enjoyed this one and even if you didn't give me a favor and give us five stars, won't you please?
I hate to ask, but these reviews really, really help. And because the format of the podcast has changed, it's really useful now for people to know if people are digging it. Feedback on my Facebook page has been terrific, but if you've got a sack over at iTunes, give us five stories. It really does make a world of difference and subscribe right now, says Chuck.
Subscribe to the way I heard it.
What do they do that, by the way, on Apple or wherever, whatever, you know, wherever, whatever. No pressure. See you next week. And I see you. I mean, like you don't ever say cut. Would you please God. Thank you.