Age before beauty

It’s the first rule of roadside beet sales: Put the best looking beets out front.

A friend of mine spent a few months after college interning for The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. While swapping horror stories one evening, he told me about his first day on the job. He was asked to sort incoming audience members into two categories as they entered: those who were “TV-worthy” and those who weren’t. He spent the afternoon deciding who was pretty enough to be accidentally caught on camera and who would have to sit in the far corners with the other uggos.

The Daily Show Studio

Outside The Daily Show's studio in Hell's Kitchen

This practice, while only mildly appalling, is neither surprising nor uncommon in showbiz. TV shows (and politicians and products and anything in the public eye) work hard to cultivate a refined, specific image. It’s the reason “Price Is Right” always “randomly” selects the same diverse group of contestants to come on down (a frat guy in a college sweatshirt, a little old lady with some spunk, and a big black woman with boobs spilling out of her shirt).

Today, I attended a taping of “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.” As a special guest of head writer Steven Bodow I, along with my group, sat in the front row facing Jon Stewart’s desk. Remembering my friend’s horror stories, I watched closely as an intern in a headset directed some groups to the main section, and others to a separate set of stands to the side of the stage and out of camera sight.

I was disappointed to see that the people clearly weren’t being seated according to attractiveness (there was a scorching blond sitting in the off-camera section and a few rotten beets front and center). After a while, however, I began to see a pattern developing. The people being seated within potential camera-sight were young. No one was over 30. Hidden away to the side and in the back were the Baby Boomers and white hairs.

The Daily Show doesn’t want to be attractive. It wants to be young.

And why not? The show’s demographic is disenfranchised young people. People who listen to Belle & Sebastian. People who wear Converse. People who vote for Ron Paul.

Jon Stewart isn’t old yet, but he certainly isn’t young. His appeal to the younger generation is his intelligence, his wit, and his “I’m with you guys” attitude. But if viewers start seeing crowd shots filled with L.L. Bean cardigans and Polo shirts tucked into jeans, they’ll begin to question whose side Stewart is really on.

After all, no know-it-all twenty-something wants to be given his or her news from a “been there, done that” Baby Boomer. That’s why they watch Jon Stewart. Despite his graying hair and crackling voice, he’s young at heart and, more importantly, he’s young onstage. He grills politicians and lobbyists while other pundits let them skate by with prepackaged soundbites. He shoots the shit with celebrities like Matt Damon and Adam Sandler. Jon Stewart – for a 49 year old dude – is pretty fucking cool.

And as long as viewers at home continue to see a young, vibrant audience laughing at his jokes and applauding his routines, they’ll know they can still trust America’s favorite fake news anchor.

Daily show sign

A sign hangs above the entrance to the studio reading "Abandon news, all ye who enter here"