We left Jon Stewart looking for Jesus on the cover of the newsweeklies and Jim Kelly swearing that he’s all for evolution. God is watching, Jim.
Enough with the Saran Wrap, Jon wants to know how much merch they’re moving. What’s your circulation? Jim Kelly says Time‘s is 4 million — impressive (but query whether it takes into account those subpoenaed subscriptions that the U.S. attorney’s office wanted — oh, right, those). Still, Time is the clear winner; the next is Cosmo, at a cool 3 million (2 million in newsstand sales!), Men’s Health with 1.7 million and Vanity Fair with 1.1 million. He looks at Graydon: “You’re fired.” Did Jon know all that? He asked them in descending order. Funny. Jon wonders; does that mean Jim makes more than Graydon? Hmmm. “What’s your price point?” Jon demands, trying to get to the bottom of this. $4.95, apparently. Can that be true? I’ve got a Newsweek in front of me; it’s $3.95. Jon wisely notes that the price decreases with a subscription; and by the way, he asks, “how much is one of those football phones?” Graydon likes the football phone joke. He’s quite jolly actually. Who knew? Graydon’s price point is $4.95 too. Kate‘s is $3.95. David‘s is “$25 for a ten-magazine subscription.” So, $2.50 says Jon. Always gotta be difficult. Newsstand price, please. $4.00 says David. Jon seems surprised. Hey man, Rx for the Complete Man don’t come cheap. Fit is the new rich.
We start talking about subscription vs. newsstand. Kate says that Cosmo moves 2 million in newsstand sales. Whoa. “God” on the coverlines, no doubt. Graydon says that VF is more about some sweet subscription action. “So, you could really put anything on the cover,” says Jon. Case in earlier point. DZ’s magazine sells EVERYWHERE: “on the newsstand, subscriber base…” Jon looks at him. “Why do I feel like you’re about to sell me a time share?” Oh, DZ. I do like how you keep on trying. It’s a credit to you actually. Unlike the treble-orgasm ref of earlier. Jon looks at the audience: “Thin is the new rich.” Laughter. Nice. But DZ is about to win their hearts: “We’re both but most of our money comes from advertisers, actually.” Who hoo! Clap if you’re an advertiser and we kind of forgot to talk about your industry! Jon looks at Graydon. “How many advertising pages?” Graydon: “In…what?” Jon: “VANITY FAIR.” Pretty funny. Oh, Uncle Graydon, where did you leave your teeth this time? VF gets 300 full pages, apparently. He asks Jim, and I can’t quite make it out — I think he said a couple thousand pages a year, which breaks down into 30 – 40 pages per issue. Jon wants to know “what’s that thing where they shove ‘em all together when you’re the middle of a story [and all the sudden] you’re reading about asthma?” (No, really, what is it? Until we know we’re going to call them Clumpy Ad Pages). Jon: “It’s like, ‘oh, my God, I can’t believe they put dioxin — whoa! Hay fever!” Jim says they try not to be that egregious, and then gives a gracious shout-out to their “wonderful advertisers.” Nice.
Jon turns to now Kate and David, saying that their mags are like big ol’ product placements “It’s almost like ‘Hey, I’m putting out this advertising book and in the middle of it is a tip on giving a blowjob.’” We *think* that one was addressed to Kate. We miss a few zingy one liners between “blow job” and the next thing we have written in our notes — no joke: “Service magazine.” Jon says that it seems like Kate and David struggle more for content, and Jim and Graydon struggle more for…relevance. Ooh. Kate says that Cosmo has its fashion pages as well as news for women about issues they’re concerned about. Jon posits that Kate and David are “talking much more demographically than these guys.” David’s not so sure; after all, “we’re striving to be a complete men’s lifestyle magazine, so we cover business, sex, nutrition, relationships, finance, fashion, travel…” Jon wonders how many guys actually need a complete magazine. Aren’t they looking less for a “life guide” than, well, products? This line of questioning is a little glib, and actually Kate makes a good point here, telling Jon that not only do many of her readers keep the magazine around as a reference (handy bedside astrologer!) but to lots of them it’s their bible. “Whoa,” says Jon. “You met somebody who referred to Cosmo as the Bible?” Jon reminds her that lots of readers are “literally sitting in doctor’s offices, waiting… It’s like, quick hits, no?” Kate: “Not for the 2 million people who buy it each month.” Jon: “Don’t you think it’s like quick hits,” snapping, as thought that will somehow convince the EDITOR OF THE MAGAZINE. “It’s like, oh, quick spicy tip, no?” Dude, if they have COVERLINE WORKSHOPS don’t you think they know how the magazines are read? You’re being too glib; we’re with Kate on this one.
And as soon as she wins us, she loses us. “Well, certainly for a women in their 20s and 30s they’ve definitely got a shorter attention span–” she is cut off by a low whistle from Jon, and a rumbling “oooh!” through the crowd. Says Jon: “They’re not going to be happy you said that.” We most certainly are not! How dare you underestimate an entire two decades of wo– no way, did I really finish a six pack of Diet Coke today? Gross. Zinczenko, on the other hand, will not be distracted from his primary purpose: to irritate Jon. DZ: “I would say that we have one of the hardest jobs out there which is trying to get guys, you know, hypochondriacs like you, to go to a doctor.” [Rumble from crowd] DZ says that it’ll take a gunshot wound or an accidentally severed limb to get a guy to the doctor. “Guys need this kind of information and the only way you can get to them is through humour.” EVERYBODY LISTEN UP! DAVID ZINCZENKO IS VERY SMART! “It’s like, Marshall McLuhan said, all jokes are grievances, so what you have to do is disarm them through humour and then arm them with the information that they need to change their lives. So we come in – not unlike what you do on your show, Jon.”
Says Jon : “I’ve often said The Daily Show is the poor man’s Men’s Health.” David, I’m down with the everything you just said except the McLuhan reference. You should take in a Woody Allen flick sometime.
Jon wants to know about the blurry line between editorial and advertising, especially in Time. Let’s say, he asks Jim, some pharmaceutical company that is a big advertiser has some scandal, and you write about it. Do they pull up and split or do they just not advertise in that issue? “They just don’t advertise in that issue,” says Jim. Obviously they’re not dealing with Morgan Stanley. Graydon remembers eight years back when they broke the story that would become the basis for “The Insider.” Ah, memories.
And now a word for our sponsors: “Do you think advertising in magazines works?” asks Jon. Graydon does, indubitably, and points to Google as an example: “I use Google, people use it like it’s a utility” but damned if he can remember a single ad he’s seen on it, ever. “But,” he says, “you do remember ads in newspapers and magazines.” Good point, Graydon.
David Zinczenko’s magazine, on the other hand, “worships at the altar of our readers.” The crowd has come to expect this; their disbelieving laughter keeps me from hearing what exactly he means by that. I heard the word “passionate” though. Have we talked about Elizabethan England yet? No? Oh, goody, can’t wait. Jon turns to Kate. “Whereas you clearly have disdain for your readers.” Oooh, zing! Jon kids, he kids. Whither Cosmo ads, really? “I think advertising is reason people come back… they’re shoppers, they’re buyers…” Does the internet make her nervous? Nah, says Kate, we gots ourselves a huge website. DZ hops nimbly in here to trumpet the virtues of reading. “We basically look at the fact that more people are reading and writing than ever before as a good thing — the form is changing, how you communicate with them… but the fact is that three hundred thousand times more people are reading today than there were when Shakespeare was alive…” Once again, all subsequent words are lost in disbelieving audience laughter. “I’m gonna do the math on that,” deadpans Jon.
And then he turns it over to the floor for questions! “I unfortunately don’t know what you really want to know and I don’t know, clearly, anything.” Jon admits that he didn’t know the event was supposed to be for advertisers, and “that might be a nice place to start.” Indeed.
And there my tape ends. Which sucks because this is also the point where my notes get way worse. But, I will try.
Someone asks Jon what magazines he reads. “Juggs,” he deadpans. “To me, gigantic tits are the new rich.” Crass but funny, I will admit. I’m fuzzy on what came next but I wrote down “Jon Stewart Living” and then “I’m going to wrestle you,” which I know was directed at Zinczenko. Then someone from Elle asked a question but damned if I can remember it, I was half-trying to formulate something intelligent-sounding about blogs, the most unintelligent-sounding word ever to describe what my life has become (“sqaualor” on the other hand, has a certain ring). I figured God had put me in the front row for a reason. I started paying attention again once Graydon said something about how humor worked better “if the city or country is really doing well.” What? I’m not so sure I agree with Graydon’s views on humor. For the guy who co-founded Spy he doesn’t seem to hold it in particularly high regard.
Jon asks the girl in the red sweater about her affiliation – she’s from Elle. (Girl in red sweater from Elle! Email me and let me know what you asked! Actually, anyone who wants to help me reconstruct this stuff please do. Check back Monday because I bet I’ll have a more complete version up then). Jon looks from Elle girl to Kate: “Oh, they are totally fucking you up.” Then he rocks some street moves for his homie in the audience. “We outsell them by a lot,” sniffs Kate. Snippity-snap!
Now. The next thing I have written in my notes is “Oh well. I tried.” What I tried to do: get Jon Stewart to admit that what he did was important, and mattered. Needless to say, I did not succeed in so doing. I wish I had taped it actually because though I was dreading hearing my stuttering, fumbling self trying to engage Jon Stewart in debate, I actually was planning to faithfully transcribe it, because frankly that’s only fair. So I will endeavor to capture the essence of the exchange.
Somehow talk turned to comedy, and Jon said that he wished people wouldn’t set such store by his show, becauase honestly people, he was a joke writer. His staff were jokewriters. Losers, actually. And it really didn’t amount to more than that. “I follow puppets” hung in the air. Now, for those of you who have read one of my laborious Daily Show write-ups (and lord knows how you slogged through this one), you will know that I don’t buy that. I think Jon cares, I think he has an agenda, I think he wants to make a difference. If not, why have guests on the show at all, frankly? Why have Robert Kennedy come on for a laugh-free 10-minute segment about autism in American children? Why is Fareed Zakaria one of your favorite guests? Why not just spent the whole show celebrating the zany antics of Steve, Ed, Rob and Samantha? No. Comedy can and should be many things: toilet jokes or “According to Jim” or Entourage; highbrow or lowbrow, visceral or cerebral. And, it can be a vessel (yes, I know you all thing I’m after Jon’s vessel anyway). Anyhow, the point is that I truly think that the Daily Show matters, and more than that I think Jon wants it to matter because he wants to effect change.
So when he said something to the effect of “what we do doesn’t really matter” I kinda got excited and before I knew it my hand was up and I was leaning forward all earnest-student-revolutionary style and saying something to the effect of “What about being right? Doesn’t that matter?” Sure it mattered, said Jon. So? So, I said, haltingly and not-very-eloquently, you say this all the time about how your show doesn’t matter yet day after day you report what’s really happening and lay it bare and skewer the administration; doesn’t that mean you have an agenda and isn’t that important to you? (NB I did say “laid bare” and “skewer” but I thought that using a few garbled words to convey “agenda” would be better than actually saying “agenda.” People, it was scary! Jon was talking to me! Seriously, I am glad that the thousand people there were behind me.) Jon agreed that yes, that is what he does, saying “I’m there every night” (I said “So am I”) but he said basically that look, we’re comedians, we’re in it to make jokes, so if you’re looking to the Daily Show for some higher purpose, you’re going to be disappointed.*
Then David Zinczenko jumped in. I know what you’re thinking, I was too (notes say “DZ agrees with me. Ulp.”), but I appreciated him keeping the thread going and he made a good point, asking “Why isn’t the news a delivery system for things that are right?” Of course, that’s where it splinters into spin — ergo, Fox News, CNN, CBS/NBC/ABC and all the talking heads in between. My point, that I neglected to properly make, was that just because Jon did it using humor didn’t mean he wasn’t doing it. I just wanted to hear him admit that yes, being right was important and yes, it was important to him.
Well, thanks to David Zinczenko I think I got my wish. Jon said, seriously — and I think it’s notable that he wasn’t cracking jokes: “Look, we have a very small, narrow talent: writing jokes. Hopefully those jokes are funny. We’re just applying that talent to things we care about. We are joke writers who would prefer to write jokes about things we care about.”
JON CARES! You know, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that admission anywhere. As far as I’m concerned that was the best part of the night.
Then he said, “I don’t understand when humor became so important,” kind of marvelling, I think, that “people feel that underserved” by traditional news delivery (NB I don’t think that’s it; it’s the people he mocks that underserve us). “Boy, I wish you could be at the meetings. We’re comedians. We’re fuckin’ losers.” Then he commented that even if there was an absence of leadership, “don’t look at us for that because at the end of the day you will be sadly disappointed.”
Still: JON CARES. You can’t take it back, Jon! We got you! Whooooooo!
Doesn’t it feel like this should be over? You’re telling me. It’s not. But soon, soon.
Update: Now, now! Here we go again.
New question from the audience: who are the funniest writers you’ve ever worked with? Graydon says Bruce Handy. Jon’s all, “ooh, he’s funny, those “Deep Thoughts” are funny!” Graydon’s all, er, Jon, I think you mean Jack Handey. Score one for Graydon, who then loses my love once again by reiterating that all the funny people leave journalism for Hollywood because “the money is better.” We don’t have experience with that but we’d definitely take your word on it. Jim Kelly also likes Bruce Handy, as well as Joel Stein and Patty Marx (Jon mocks her non-famousness – pride goeth, Jon!). Kate White makes a point of saying how delightfully funny she finds her female writers, but when it really comes to sidesplitting laughs, she loves the boys. There was a funny gang they hired to write some coverlines and they were just hilarious! Don’t need to confirm that in the love lab! Kate, I’d find this irritating if I wasn’t already distracted by something else. Ha, ha. DZ said they have funny writers all the time, most notably Steve Martin who prepped a piece on why men have nipples. Wonders Jon: “Why do men have nipples?” (NB some men have three nipples! It’s true!)
Here’s where we get into the interesting stuff. An audience member brings up Jon Stewart on Crossfire; did anything anger him equally in print? Not really, says Jon: “I don’t consider the print media as relevant.” OUCH. Jon says it’s “kind of hard to get worked up” about anything in print. Take that, Gutenberg! Graydon disagrees, strongly, recalling how much has happened since Jim and he “started at Time 27 years ago this month” (cool media factoid!). Jon responds by saying that it’s all about TV: “the agenda is driven now by the 24 hour network.” Graydon says no way, “they are simply refractors of what appears in print.” Jon not-so-respectfully disagrees. “I didn’t say you don’t have your place,” he said. “It’s just at the children’s table.” Once again, OUCH.
[In my notes I have written: "Kate & DZ have a lot to contribute."]
Graydon and Jon are digging in for debate. Good! Let’s do it! Jon cites the example of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth campaign: handily discredited in print, but the widespread TV exposure hurt Kerry like a sumbitch. Graydon is stubborn: “Print provides stability and balance.” Jon is equally stubborn: “What’s driving news now, the way that news is driven, is not in print.”
Says Graydon triumphantly: “Television doesn’t break news.” Cough, Deep Throat, cough. GREAT POINT. There is genuine (relieved?) applause. Graydon says that print pushes scholarship forward. Jon is almost impatient here. “We don’t run on pushing scholarship forward. People who voted for the Bush administration were misinformed on most of the issues. And it’s not because they were reading the New York Times and not understanding it!”
Graydon says that print may not reach everyone, but it reaches the critical mass of the people it needs to reach. Jon calls this out for being slightly elitist, and wrong to boot: “The majority of the country doesn’t function on print.”
Kate makes a good point about the staying power of print: people keep their magazines around (it’s true; my apartment is a total firetrap). Jon shakes his head, says “I really think you’ve missed the point”; he didn’t say that print wasn’t important. Graydon says you did too, YOU said we’re sitting at the CHILDREN’S TABLE. Hmph. “I did say children’s table,” says Jon, reconsidering. “That was…funny.” Look, he says, print is fine and all that but it’s about “what’s driving the discourse.” Print is not driving the discourse. End of story.
Awkward silence. I mean, this was a pretty spirited debate with an informed audience and a (presumably) even more informed panel (whee was Jim Kelly? My notes do not reflect his participation, which is odd, considering he’s the editor of Time. If I missed stuff let me know). Someone else asks Jon about the impact of the internet. He says that it doesn’t have the same sort of impact as TV. Okay, I am DEFINITELY disagreeing with him here. He senses this, because he says: “Here’s another thing: What the fuck do I know?” He says yes, the internet is important, but “all it is is a delivery system.” If he’s so all about the 24-hour news cycle and what is driving the discourse, he should not be discounting the web.
His “what the fuck do I know?” was meant as a punchline, but perhaps also to placate the crowd; after all, though he is certainly by now an expert on many things he doesn’t know the print media like the people in that room, and his glibness on a number of topics suggests that he didn’t exactly study the stats before going in. Even so, since he does work directly off current events as necessarily reported in the media, his views on are telling insofar as they reveal how his own needs for immediacy are met. Of course, having a staff of writers and researchers probably helps, too.
The panel ends by coming back to humor; the circle is complete. Kate says that she think’s humor is “extraordinarily important” and notes that her readers come to Cosmo for information AND entertainment, delivered in an “amusing and cheeky” way. She said that actually Cosmo had made a concerted effort to inject humor into the magazine had had noticed “a big lift” in the year following that initiative (no more specific info than that). The next think I have in my notes is “humor is a way of dealing with anxiety”; who wants to bet that’s Zinczenko?
That is the end of my notes, because that is when Jon turned to the audience and said, “Do you guys have more questions? What time is this supposed to be over?” and, with no definitive answer from the crowd declared his hapless panelists formally at ease, thanking them for their participation.
There was no moment of Zen.
*At some point in that exchange I think I asked one more thing (something bleedy-hearty like “But doesn’t that matter?”) but that’s basically the gist. I have to say that it was a very in-the-moment moment — I didn’t plan to challenge him on that but it just sorta happened. After, when he was on to the next question, I felt my face get very very hot and felt kind of dumb. But whatever, you get nothing by risking nothing, right?