Finding comedy in dark times: 'Daily Show' writers to perform in Bloomington
A deadly pandemic. A contentious presidential election. An insurrection.
The last two years have been … dark. But every day, the writers at “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah” go to work to find comedy in that darkness. And they’re really, really good at it.
Four of those writers will perform Jan. 29 at the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts, as part of “The Daily Show Writers Comedy Tour.”
“In any horrible situation, there’s a part of your brain – and you’re not proud of it – that’s always looking for comedy,” said Matt Koff, one of the writers who will be in Bloomington. “And no matter how awful the event, no matter how dark, there’s always somebody saying something stupid about it. And that’s usually where the comedy is.”
“The Daily Show” is fueled largely by the news itself – clips from cable news are a regular jumping-off point for jokes – making it a fine companion for these COVID times.
"And no matter how awful the event, no matter how dark, there’s always somebody saying something stupid about it. And that’s usually where the comedy is."
Koff has been with “The Daily Show” since 2013, transitioning from former host Jon Stewart to current host Trevor Noah. He’s also written through three presidential administrations: Obama, Trump, and now Biden.
During a recent interview, WGLT asked Koff how he perceives the political makeup of “The Daily Show’s audience, as he’s writing jokes for them.
“It’s hard, because I think that Trump made everybody so tense. Or this moment made everybody so tense. There isn’t really a lot of room for nuance. I feel like irony is dead. You can’t really say something arch,” Koff said. “I don’t really know if ‘The Colbert Report’ would have worked now, because whatever side you’re on, you are sincere. You have to be sincere. There’s no playing in the middle. It’s hard not to be on one side or the other in anything, and I think comedy includes that. There’s an expectation of morality on comedians. And I feel like, in this moment, if an audience member thinks they don’t agree with you, they’re not going to trust you, and they’re not going to laugh.”
Like any job, the pandemic has changed the writing process at “The Daily Show.” Koff said there used to be a lot of oral pitching, almost like doing stand-up—feeding off the laughs.
“And now, it’s more like we just type in jokes to a Google Doc, and that’s it,” Koff said. “That is fine, but I do miss being around my co-workers and just laughing that way.”
Despite having a day job that many comedians would envy, Koff continues to moonlight as a stand-up. Koff once opened for former “Daily Show” correspondent John Oliver at a comedy club in New Jersey, and Oliver stressed that it was an important muscle to keep exercising.
“I don’t think I’d still be doing standup if John Oliver hadn’t hassled me, and made me feel like being a ‘Daily Show’ writer is not enough. I thought that would be enough, but not for John Oliver.”
Koff will perform at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 29 when “The Daily Show Writers Comedy Tour” comes to the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts. Koff and three other writers will do standup sets, emceed by a local or regional comedian.
We all have very distinct voices, so it’s a nice variety,” Koff said.