When is Appearing on the Daily Show a Bad Idea?

What would you do when this man calls?

What would you do when this man calls?

One of my favorite television programs is The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. In my book, it’s a smart, clever well-written program which consistently makes me laugh. Along the way, it  manages to recommend a few books to read and introduce me to a few people I’ve never met. But what do you when a Daily Show producer calls you seeking an interview?

Last week, my pastor called me telling me that the Daily Show wanted to interview her and profile our church in a segment meant to make fun of the media’s willingness to scrutinize every detail of the Obama family’s lives, even where they choose to worship God.

In the Daily Show’s view, the news stories about the dog, the school, the Christmas vacation, the dress and the gym visits are a bit much. They think the church choice takes these stories to a whole new level.

I agree.

Since I’m the church’s unofficial PR guy, due to the fact that I speak with reporters all day for a living, my pastor wanted my advice. Should we allow the Daily Show to send a camera crew to film our members, our building and interview her?

My initial reaction was, “absolutely not.”

I just couldn’t conceive of how the producers could come up with a funny segment which would make fun of the media but not my church. One of our members who is a political consultant – yes, they go to church, too – pointed out that the Daily Show audience is exactly the demographic of people who would really find our church appealing. (Our congregation is a bit atypical for organized religion, that’s why I like it.)

So because some in our flock thought it might be worth pursuing, I spoke at length with the segment’s producer. She insisted that the piece wouldn’t make fun of religion or any church profiled. “Many people on our staff worship God regularly,” she offered. “It wouldn’t be funny if we were to mock your church or your pastor.”

In our conversation, the producer said she wants the clergy-people and church interviewed by their correspondent to respond incredulously when asked ridiculous questions on camera about the possibility of the Obamas worshipping with their congregation. That assumes our pastor and members are funny. Some are, but they aren’t Rob Riggle funny.

Ultimately, I counseled against doing this interview and our church accepted this recommendation. My reasoning was that the comic timing of our pastor and our church members would have to be pitch perfect for us to come across the right way. While I have no problem criticizing reporters – I do that for a living – I couldn’t conceive of how the Daily Show could avoid not making fun of our pastor or congregation if we were to participate. While I’m just as irreverent as the next person — I loved the Colbert Christmas Special – I just felt in my gut that the downside risk was huge in comparison to the upside.

That said, two other D.C. area pastors disagreed with me.

This Tuesday, the Daily Show will be in Washington to film these clergy and their congregations. I hope for their sake that the producers keep their word, but I am not that trusting. The very next day after I spoke with the very charming producer in New York, Jon Stewart was mocking the website of a Christian organization. Granted, it’s one who’s beliefs I don’t share or agree with, but it’s Christian none the same.

So much for never mocking someone’s faith. I guess I am just a Doubting Thomas. (That’s why I need to get to church more often!)


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