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By Ian Kirby
There aren't many shows that have more of a cult following among the campus demographic than "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart," and it surely takes the title as the #1 news related program. While the show even refers to itself with the tongue-in-cheek term "fake news," the reality is that many young people are turned on to some of our most important issues through satire. It's a delivery system that makes sense to them, because it's fun, and usually fun is mindless. But in a time when so many crucial issues NEED our young adults to be mindful, the blend between entertainment and information is one the campus culture likes blurred. This month, Campus Activities Magazine® is proud to bring you a special and exclusive feature on "The Daily Show Live: Indecision Tour 2012," envisioned and assembled by the show's executive producer Rory Albanese, who himself is an accomplished stand up that travels with the tour and is Jon Stewart's #2 on TDS. We speak with Rory and feature correspondent Al Madrigal, the show's "Chief Latin Correspondent" and regular guest. If you don't see your favorite member of the team included, be sure to call Ari Levin at CAA to find out about your own custom configuration of "Daily Show" correspondents based on who your students want to see.
Rory Albanese is the kind of guy you really have to respect. Despite not being as recognizable a name as the mainstream TDS correspondents, he is an accomplished standup and has probably paid more dues at "The Daily Show" than anyone else. "I'm the guy behind the guy," he jokes. "As executive producer and one of the writers, what I am doing every day is sort of overseeing the daily production of the show from a big picture perspective. I'm making sure all the components for each part of the show are coming together and managing how it all gets on the air. I'll also sit down and rewrite the show with Jon and one of the other producers after we rehearse. I'm the guy who is sort of running the day to day operations from the morning meeting until we wrap post production before airing the show. Jon is also the other executive producer, but since he hosts the show, I have a lot of responsibility in the day to day production. He is intimately involved with all of creative processes, but there is just a lot of additional logistical footwork that someone needs to run point on. We have an incredible staff that does most of that, I just oversee it."
Reader's can clearly see how having Rory at the center of this tour gives students an unprecedented look behind the curtain at TDS. With the correspondents, you may get name recognition, familiarity and most certainly talent, but with Rory you get a real piece of what makes "The Daily Show" what it is.
"His voice is a major part of the show," says Al Madrigal, of "The Best F#@king News Team On Televison" of Rory's contributions. "He's great to have on this tour, because he's the executive producer and such a big part of what you see on television, even though you never see him," Al says, in a voice which in normal conversation sounds exactly like Alan Alda (google him and then shame your parents for never exposing you to "M.A.S.H.). "Yes, people tell me that all the time," Al comments, bursting the bubble of witty creativity I thought I saw floating before my eyes, as I digressed with this question before he steers us back to Indecision Tour 2012. "In terms of the hierarchy of the show," he explains, "you've got Jon Stewart at the top, and then Rory Albanese."
When we talk about Rory paying his dues, it's meant quite literally. He started working for the show almost straight out of college, and came from the ground up. "In 1999 I started as a production assistant, which is the entry level job and I just worked my way up. That's not really a very common thing to happen for a few reasons, mostly because many shows don't last long enough (laughs) and usually when a show is on the air for as long as this one there is not very much mobility because turnover is very low. I'm incredibly lucky and grateful to have worked my way to the place I am now. I started right after Jon Stewart came on the show and it was evolving so quickly I got the opportunity to evolve with it. I have been here 13 years now and probably the first six or seven I spent 'shoveling coal in the furnace' so to speak. It's been in just the last few years that I have been involved in a much larger capacity."
Al echoes this. "I know he is behind the scenes mostly, but his voice is so present on every single show, it's amazing. As far as having a 'top' Daily Show guy on this tour, other than Jon, Rory is it,." Good luck getting Jon Stewart between now and the election season.
Speaking with Rory, you can tell he's a no nonsense guy, but you can also tell he's genuine and never comes off as arrogant or egotistical about his very unique position. I comment to him he must have been doing something right during the "coal shoveling" years and he, like most people with real class, simply falls into self-deprecation. "Maybe it was hard work, or maybe I was just backstabbing and murdering my way to the top," he laughs.
Rory's main milestone in standup is his half-hour Comedy Central special, which originally aired April 2, 2010. Unlike most performers, Rory didn't start out with his job in show business as a means to get in front of a camera, he was on the job several years before he was finally convinced to try stand-up. Once he got the swing of it, putting together this tour was a natural winner. "I love stand up even though I didn't start until 2006. There are many people who do it at the show, both on and off camera and I was able to make them laugh, so they encouraged me to try it out. I went on tour in 2006 with Lewis Black and never looked back.
"Creating this tour seemed like a great way to get the group together and go out and have a ton of fun, not to mention giving students a chance to feel like a part of the show live and in person much more than seeing any one of us in a club would."
Being a standup can be a great job, none of them will quibble with that, but not everyone enjoys being a road warrior and in this instance at least the isolation that is part and parcel with this lifestyle is alleviated. "Standup is a ton of fun and no one could complain about getting paid to share your thoughts with others, but it can definitely get lonely," Rory says. "You end up in these strange towns at strange clubs, which would be really fun with some friends, but when you are sitting alone in a motel, looking out the window night after night, it's kind of creepy (laughs). When you're with a group, it's more fun, particularly the group that works together on this show."
And there is quite a cast of characters in this group, with most of the current and some of the former cast like Rob Riggle configured different ways depending on who your school wants to bring in. Al enjoys working with all of them. "We have so many good comics that come out," he says. "Besides Rory and myself some of our regular tour mates are John Hodgman, Kristen Schaal, Larry Wilmore and of course John Oliver. There are so many standup comedians on the show, it was a great idea for Rory to put this tour together."
Al Madrigal is a veteran comic, but for "The Daily Show" audience is a relatively fresh face, coming on in 2011 as the newest permanent correspondent other than the very recently added Jessica Williams. "I was a contributor at first, but last May I did my first on-camera piece. I did five or six more segments throughout 2011, but there was a time when I was working on another television show with Hank Azaria (which did not get made) that I wasn't working with TDS. Rory read about the cancellation and called me that morning."
Talk about ups and downs. "(Laughs) Yeah, I got a phone call saying our TV project had been cancelled and then immediately after that I got another call about this opportunity to go on 'The Daily Show,' full time.
The Indecision Tour is a great project for everyone involved, the producers of the show, the comics on it, and the students on your campus who probably get more political news from Jon Stewart than they do from Anderson Cooper. "I won't lie to you," Rory says, "it is a huge advantage for us as comics. When you put a group of people from TDS together, you are going to get more butts in seats than any one of us alone, save perhaps Jon."
Not for nothing, but campuses without large budgets can also book various configurations of The Indecision Tour for a fraction of what the cost of bringing in Jon Stewart, even if he has avails. Complementing the crowd-drawing power of the tour for the comics is the access students get by having the teams together on their stage. Each comic does their own material in their time slot, but the truly unprecedented jewel in this crown is the chance students have to tap the brains of the cast after their performances. "We do a Q&A after the shows and talk to the students," Rory says. "It's more of an experience than seeing just standup and it's fun for us because we get a chance to get out and talk to fans of the show and meet and interact with them which we don't really get to do day to day working in the studio."
It should be clearly noted that this isn't an on-the-road taping of TDS, you are getting to see the unique voices of members of the cast and crew, followed by the interactive session with all of them. "Part of the DNA of the show is present on stage, but beyond that is it much more down to earth and fun, without the television cameras or lights or pressure of taping a show that has to air 3 hours later."
TDS is one of the most uniquely appropriate shows for standup comics to be on. Even more that the typical sitcom, the segments these comics do on TDS are in a live (esque) style and give a good sense of what a comic will be on stage, and that seems to really boost their stand up as a result. Al has noticed a huge difference in his career since coming on to his prominent position on the show. "I have been doing standup for 15 years, that is what I do," he says. "The acting stuff was just a plus but when it comes down to it, what I have always wanted to do is my stand up. This is one of those shows that as a standup comic it is one of the best gigs you can ever have. I am getting more requests, dates and better turnouts everywhere I go. It has been an incredible opportunity and ride and I am thankful to Jon and Rory for it."
BOOK IT! As one of the most diversely adaptable shows for the 18-24 crowd, this is a can't miss tour for your school. That is true for any time, but with the election season coming up and perhaps in a time more divisive than any in our political history, that power is exponentially multiplied. Call Ari Levin at CAA at (424) 288-2000 or firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a sure winner for your campus and an experience your students will talk about for years to come.