Interview: The Daily Show’s Rob Kutner

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On today’s homepage, MyJewishLearning is featuring a fascinating new article about Daily Show host Jon Stewart. To go along with this great piece, four-time Emmy award winning Daily Show writer Rob Kutner was kind enough to sit down and answer a few questions for us.

apocalypse.jpg Jeremy Moses: You recently had your seventh annual (correct me if I’m wrong on that) Purim Show at the 92 Street Y Tribeca. Have you considered expanding and doing a show for another holiday? I think there is a market for Tisha B’Av jokes.

Rob Kutner: Yes, that is correct–I’m impressed. We have talked about doing other holidays, like Shavuot and Hanukkah. And Tisha B’Av would be ideal, because then we could really fail miserably with the humor and it would be a mitzvah. Probably won’t happen though. What it ultimately comes down to is, the venue isn’t interested in a day when they can’t sell booze.

JM: At this year’s show, you had Daily Show contributors Wyett Cenac and John Oliver performing, both non-Jews. What’s in it for them? Do they get any of the jokes?

RK: I’ve often asked myself both of those questions. But that is part of the fun–giving someone a crash course in Purim. In fact, the majority of our cast this year wasn’t Jewish, and it’s always fun tutoring people in pronunciation and telling them things like “Just pause for a laugh after this joke about Aaron’s Best–it makes no sense to you but it will kill with our crowd.”

JM: Speaking of which, there are probably more Jewish oriented jokes on The Daily Show than any other show on television right now. Is there ever a worry amongst the writing staff that you’re alienating some viewers? And if there is, do you even care?

RK: Believe it or not, the majority of those jokes are written by non-Jews. I don’t know why–maybe it’s a desperate attempt on their parts to make it further in Hollywood. As for alienating our viewers, if you watch the show you know we’ve been working hard on that for years.

JM: While there are a lot of Jewish jokes being told on The Daily Show, I know of more than a few Jews who watch Jon Stewart and are surprised by his criticisms of Israel. First, do you buy the argument that sometimes the commentary is overly harsh on Israel? Second, how much debate goes on in the writer’s room when it comes to Middle East reporting?

RK: We do have some very spirited debates about the Middle East in the room, as on a number of things, if not on others (for ex: pretty clear consensus on Terri Schiavo). Even though I personally didn’t agree with several aspects of Jon’s views on the subject, I also recognize his natural instinct is to counteract any semblance of a “party line” by the media. And in the case of the Gaza war, American news outlets were pretty solidly on Israel’s side.

JM: You have a book out called Apocalypse How: Turn the End Times into the Best of Times! What do you think Jews should do to enjoy the end of the world? Or is the whole book just a front to convince people to accept the Rebbe?

RK: Honestly, Jews aren’t capable of enjoying the current world, so why should the end be any different?

Apocalypse How: Turn the End of Times Into the Best of Times! is available at apocalypsehowthebook.com. You can also order the scripts from past Purim spiel sketches to wow your congregation or JCC at shushanchannel.com.

Posted on May 20, 2009

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