I was curious to find out how John Oliver got the job of hosting the Daily Show while Jon Stewart is away for the summer. (If you don’t watch it, don’t worry, that’s not really what this is about). While looking around, I found an interview of John Oliver in the New York Times talking about the preparation that John was doing to take over the show. He’s not only presenting, I found out, but he’s in charge of all the content too.
There were two parts I found particularly interesting. First, Oliver is asked: “How did Jon Stewart approach you about this?”, and he replies: “..he called me up and said, “We’ve got the money — I’m going to shoot it this summer. Would you do it?” To which I guess the only answer is yes.” The follow up question is: “There was no hesitation?” and the answer: “I’ll do anything for him, whether it’s hosting this show or disposing of a body.” That’s loyalty to a boss. The interview absolutely gives the impression that Stewart is in charge of the show, and that he is the boss. Yet, Oliver would do anything for him. However Stewart acts as a boss, he’s doing it right.
Then there are some questions about the process. It turns out, that they don’t just turn up in the afternoon, mess around for a while and hope that the jokes are funny. There are two parts where he describes the process: “Jon built it to operate in a certain process, so that process really has to stay. It’s like a Nascar driver giving keys to his car to a member of his pit crew. I fundamentally understand how the engine works — I just never have driven it that fast before.” and “What he’s always told us is you want to make sure that the spine of the argument is in shape. You can write jokes at any point of the day. Jokes are not that hard to write, or they shouldn’t be when it is literally your job. It’s harder to shift the point of view of a headline later in the day. That’s the kind of thing you need to keep an eye on early. You’d think you’d come in early in the day and go, “What jokes should we tell?” And that’s not always the case.”
And the lesson from all this? Everything that is good has a process. Someone has thought through every detail of how to make it good, and better and better, until it just works, and looks effortless. Even comedy news.