What It's Like to Direct 'The Daily Show'

It's less stressful than you think, plus lots of catered lunches

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Between the iconic host, maybe-movie-star-in-waiting correspondents, and the much-heralded writing staff, it's tempting to assume The Daily Show just sort of directs itself. It doesn't, of course. That responsibility belongs to Chuck O'Neil, who took over as director in 1999 when Stewart replaced Craig Kilborn as host

In Variety, Steve Heisler details a typical day for O'Neil, which bears little resemblance to the frenzied creative chaos of The Larry Sanders Show, 30 RockStudio 60 on the Sunset Strip and other behind-the-scenes looks at late night television.The morning production meeting last seven minutes, three of which is devoted to a"'motivating' clip from a horrible-yet-awesome action film."  Heisler explains what comes next:

Employees at "The Daily Show" operate, for the most part, autonomously. The morning is for the writers to hone the satire; O'Neil, meanwhile, remains in a holding pattern until close to 3 p.m., when scripts trickle in. Meanwhile, he checks his email. He pets the office dogs. Lunch is catered every day, and O'Neil sits with his jovial crew, lingering well after others go back to work.

Petting dogs? Checking email? Lingering? That sounds like a pretty great gig, but Heisler offers a word of caution. "Playing latenight TV director is like playing a massive video game," he explains, "and it can easily slip into disaster avoidance, mitigating problems as they arise."

O'Neil's less dire take on his job description: "We're not landing planes at the airport. If we crash and burn, we can fix it in post."

One thing that was nerve-wracking was directing the three-hour Rally to Restore Sanity in Washington, D.C. back in October. O'Neill directed the live telecast, with no rehearsal, and from a script that came together late. "That's the most stressful thing I've done," he says.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.