Photo credit: Lila Marooney
Jon Stewart shaped The Daily Show
into a funny, sharp-edged satire about politics and news media. But there was an awful lot of music flowing through the show’s DNA, from the Bob Mould theme song performed by They Might Be Giants, to Stephen Colbert’s love of Stephen Sondheim, to Ed Helms’s insistence on seizing every opportunity to sing on camera, to Jessica Williams’s turns as Senior Beyoncé Correspondent. This playlist has similarly eclectic influences. Some of the songs were heard on the show. Some are from moments in Stewart’s life and career. Some relate to my 9-month sprint turning 20 years of television into a book. All of them, however, are songs that I can’t ever hear again without thinking of The Daily Show (The Book)
“Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen
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The anthem of New Jersey. One thing I share with Stewart is a love of Springsteen. Every night at The Daily Show
the playing of “Born to Run” signaled that taping was about to begin — and John Hodgman and Wyatt Cenac tell funny stories about how when they hear the song now it snaps them into a cold sweat, as if they’re being cued to go onstage.
"Asheville City Skyline" by The Lonesome Trio
When The Daily Show
would go on the road, several performers would warm up the studio audience by singing the national anthem — straight, not for laughs. My favorite souvenir from writing the book is probably a recording of Stephen Colbert, Ed Helms, Rob Corddry, and Mo Rocca singing it in the dressing room. Sorry, that version is not available. So instead, here’s an almost equally cool song with Helms on guitar and lead vocals, as part of a trio he formed in college that still performs occasionally.
“At the Movies” by Bad Brains
In the mid-1980s Stewart was a bartender at City Gardens, a legendary punk rock club in Trenton. He survived the fights and the fires to hear a lot of great music. Bad Brains was high on the list, along with Butthole Surfers, whose Gibby Haynes was later a fun Daily Show
“Sick of Myself" by Matthew Sweet
Younger Daily Show
staffers joke that Stewart’s musical tastes are stuck in the mid-1990s. Not true! And self-loathing and Sweet’s guitar never go out of style.
“Protect Ya Neck” by Wu-Tang Clan
A classic from their debut album. Twenty-one years later Stewart hosted a rare televised reunion with all the original members, minus ODB.
“Jesus, Etc.” by Wilco
Jeff Tweedy played “You Are Not Alone” with Mavis Staples at the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear. And that was good. But this song, particularly the live version, is one of my favorite Wilco tunes, and it sounded even better at the end of a long day of rewriting.
“Picking Up the Signal” by Son Volt
Late nights when I was very tired and working on the book, this song would often pop into my head and jolt me back to life. “After all this confusion is put aside / After all, finally gonna make it right.”
“Hurricane Season” by Trombone Shorty
If I was stuck constructing a section of the book, I’d play this loudly and the beat would somehow help me find the right rhythm for the text.
“Shelter Song” by Temples
R. J. Osterhoudt, a Daily Show
sound engineer, was kind enough to create a terrific soundtrack for the book party. This is a song I didn’t know but now love.
“End of the World Party” by Medeski, Martin & Wood
The book party took place eight days after Donald Trump was elected president. This is a great song that also felt like a nervous joke at the time.
“Empire State of Mind” by Jay Z
I’m kind of sick of this song, to be honest. But! Here’s an anecdote that is not in the book: Stewart’s dancing (“’dancing" is a generous term,” one staffer told me) was one of the longest-running, fondest inside jokes at the show. During one stretch Stewart would blast “Empire” on his cell phone and make everyone in the office get out of their cubicles and dance. So now when I hear the song it cracks me up, because I picture Jon, in his off-camera chinos, work boots, and t-shirt, doing his white man boogie down the office aisles.
“We’ll Meet Again” by Joe Henry
The first person to join Stephen Colbert onstage to sing this bittersweet World War II-era hit, during the Colbert Report
finale, was his close friend and mentor Jon Stewart — whose singing on The Daily Show
was usually part of a joke, but who can carry a tune quite nicely. This version is by Joe Henry, a grievously underappreciated musician in my estimation. Many readers of The Daily Show (The Book)
have told me that Jon and company got them through some rough political days. It’s even more necessary to keep smiling through the current darkness.
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writes about politics, sports, and entertainment. He lives with his wife, son, and daughter in Brooklyn. The Daily Show (The Book)
is his first book.