Wednesday, July 20, 2016

2016 Republican National Convention (Tuesday)

Waiting for Trevor at the Breen Center.
Weeks ago, when it was first announced that The Daily Show would produce their show in Cleveland during the convention, I didn’t think twice. I just got the tickets and then told my wife I had done it.

The tickets were free, tickets to daily television programs traditionally are. They need to fill every single seat, every single day. Also, they ask from audience members extraordinary things, and the price tag makes it difficult to complain. After all, you aren’t an audience there to be entertained, as in a rock concert or a play, you are expected to be a participant, a performer even in the proceedings, behaving exactly as they ask you to. They should pay you.

This is not to suggest that they take the audience for granted, heavens no. The day before the Tuesday taping we received an email explaining in detail what we would need to do to receive the real tickets, an exactly when and where to arrive at the Breen Center where the taping would take place.

You see, making a reservation didn’t guarantee a ticket. They need every seat filled, so when the camera pans the auditorium, it is packed with smiling, excited people, so they take reservations for far more people than can be seated. We made plans to arrive early, to make sure we got in.

It was a beautiful day, and we read books and chatted with folks on line before getting our tickets at 2 PM. In the meantime, staffers came out and again explained how seating would work, that those who arrived first would be seated first, etc. They also handed out as much bottled water as we needed.

The wife and I were #24 and #25, so that was cool. Shortly after 2 PM we were able to walk over to West 25th and got a late lunch at TownHall which is big on locally sourced food (and beer) and lots of non-meat items. We chose to sit inside, having just sat out in direct sunlight for several hours, but right by the big garage doors for an awesome breeze and to watch the people go by. Our server had a ball cap that read MAKE AMERICA HEALTHY AGAIN. I can dig it.

Slight digression: I am so proud with how chill my city has been during the Cleveland Summer of 2016™. One million people descended upon East Ninth Street, city government seemed a little unprepared for that, yet everyone was really cool and happy.

So far, there has been little unrest among the activists, the police have been really friendly (and effective, swift and non-violent when things get a little out of hand) and basically the only really horrible things happening this week are all on stage at the Q.

The Daily Show with Trevor Noah (Comedy Central)
Now, I have no idea what it takes to run a daily comedy program inspired by current events. Twenty-four news channels just capture things on video and the describe what they think they are seeing and say what they think they should be saying about them. Comedy news shows have to watch all that crap and then make it funny.

After getting our seats (great seats, by the way) we waited around ninety minutes for the warm-up act to come out. The impression I had was simply that things were taking longer than usual, and in my imagination they were editing footage from that day on the fly.

Curiously, unlike the show they recorded for Wednesday night, Trevor Noah did not tell us who the guest interview would be at the top of the show. It turned out to be former Republican National Committee Chair Michael Steele. Perhaps he was late? Regardless, we all waited patiently. The air conditioning was not extreme and the playlist was upbeat and spirited.

The warm-up act performed a very funny Q&A with the audience (it took him a while to understand why so many guests sitting the the VIP section were priests, when it finally dawned on him that was hilarious) and taught us how to properly go nuts at the beginning and end of commercial breaks. He also expressed his love of Mitchell’s Ice Cream.

Seriously. I have never heard so many people talking about Mitchell’s in my life. On NPR, on CNN. When Trevor Noah came out for his pre-show Q&A the first thing he started talking about is that goddamn ice cream.

The show itself ran in sequence, the way you see it on TV. At breaks for commercials the host would confer with his producers, perhaps about what is going well, what needs to change, but the breaks were not much longer than actual commercial breaks.

If he wasn’t otherwise occupied by production, Noah would address us, the audience, thanking us, praising us for our contribution, and even continuing to comment on some of the issues raised in the previous segment.

And that was interesting, because it was evident that he, like Jon Stewart before him, is emotionally invested in the material he is presenting and commenting upon. Not just that it be funny, but that it represents a coherent worldview. In fact, the most startling moments of the program were when he would suddenly say something - scripted, on-air - which wasn’t intended to make us laugh at all. Where making his point was more important than being funny.

Michael Steele on The Daily Show (Comedy Central)
The appearance of Michael Steele as Noah’s interview subject was quite surprising, if only because I haven’t seen or heard anything from him since he stepped down as RNC Chair. I don't watch MSNBC, apparently he provides commentary for them now. The interview was long, nuanced and very interesting.

Noah began by asking Steele if he was black, which Steele confirmed, and then that he is a Republican, which Steele also confirmed, to laughs, but then Steele said something which passed without comment, “But I’m black first.” That was a missed opportunity for the interviewer.

Steele is no longer beholden to the party, and spoke freely about the things that concern him about Trump, about his own refusal to endorse prior to the nomination, the two spoke about many interesting things and Noah concluded by asking if he believed Clinton qualified to be president, to which Steele said reassuring, in a nutshell, of course she is.

That night, when we watched the broadcast, the interview was cut significantly for time, reduced primarily his introduction and this apparent approval if not outright endorsement of Hillary Clinton. Even I would find that disingenuous, though Comedy Central did something unusual, which was to flash a banner during Steele’s answer about Hillary, urging viewers to WATCH THE ENTIRE, FULL-LENGTH INTERVIEW ONLINE.

And you should, here is the link.

Throughout the program we were thanked for our excitement and enthusiasm, and generally praised by the host and all of his associates who addressed us for the wonderful treatment they were receiving as visitors to our city. Apparently, we were a little too enthusiastic, as they decided to edit one of the recorded packages and re-record ours and Noah’s reaction to it because our laughs and applause had made the show run long. At least, that’s what we were told.

Following the taping, it was odd to emerge into sunlight, but it wasn’t yet eight o'clock. A long day in Ohio City, the air now cooling, we chose to continue our day-long date by finding a place for a drink and appetizers, settling on the Black Pig.

We sat out on the sidewalk patio, taking our time, talking about the evolution of The Daily Show and the state of the nation in general.

I looked down the sidewalk and spied a squad of officers walking across the street as a mother and her two kids were headed the other way past them through the intersection. Yes, I noticed that she and her children were black. An officer exchanged words with her, I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but I do know there was joyful laughter.

To be continued.

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