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'Daily Show' writer Jason Reich '98 admits his tastes run 'to the more absurd'

Jason Reich
Lindsay France/University Photography
Jason Reich '98 shows clips of his work that were featured on "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart" during his talk in the Alice Cook House Common Room Dec. 1. Copyright © Cornell University

With study period in full swing, everyone knows it is no laughing matter to be a student at Cornell at the end of fall semester. But Alice Cook House organizers managed to bring a little humor to campus last Friday, Dec. 1, when they hosted "A Conversation With Jason Reich." Reich, who graduated in 1998 as a communication major, is an Emmy Award-winning writer for the student favorite "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart."

Reich began writing comedy at Cornell, where he was a member of the sketch comedy group The Skitsophrenics. After an internship with HBO in his sophomore year, working on the now-defunct "High Life," he decided to pursue screenwriting as a career. By chance, a friend recommended him for a job as a writer's assistant at "The Daily Show" in March of 1999, when Jon Stewart replaced Craig Kilborn as host. Now, seven years later, Reich is one of the "old guard."

"As a writer's assistant, I got to read everything the writers put out," he said of his early days at the show. "I was learning how to write jokes from some of the best joke writers in town." Reich went on to win four Emmy Awards for his work. He brought with him some video clips of that work -- from Stephen Colbert covering hurricanes and a scene from Wesley Clark's junior prom to a "This Week in God" segment.

Coming from a sketch background, Reich cited such comedians as Mel Brooks, Neil Simon and Steve Martin as his strongest influences.

"My tastes kind of tend toward the more absurd," he said wryly. "I'm not really a news person at all; I like a lot of the sillier stuff more. My favorite scene is the junior prom thing; nobody ever laughs at it, but I think it's hilarious."

After discussing life at the show and the team of writers he works with, Reich was asked if the show has flourished partly because "the Bush administration is kind of an easy target."

Although he admitted that is part of the reason, he noted that "whoever is in the White House is going to be making news; it is actually nice to have a new cast of characters after this past election." He attributed the show's phenomenal success to its transformation from a cruel celebrity bash-fest to a satire not only of American politics but of American society. "The Daily Show's" recently released "America: The Book," which Reich contributed to, is an example.

He warned against taking the show as more than just comedy. "People always talk about how they get their news from 'The Daily Show,'" he said. "But we really are just trying to be funny. It would be impossible for us to go in and do our jobs every day and think, 'Is this joke important?'" It is supposed to be about the laughs, Reich stated, advising his audience to take some of that humor with them to finals week.

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