"DAILY SHOW" IS MORNING DRIVE RADIO FOR TV

I pulled this story from the St. Paul Pioneer-Press, it was during the glory days of "The Daily Show". This article is by Pioneer-Press staff columnist and broadcast critic Brian Lambert.

It's a strange and troubling sight, a grown man licking the floor. But after a while you grow accustomed to the things people will do for a laugh.

It is late afternoon deep in the WNET public television building on West 57th Street. It's rehearsal time for ``The Daily Show,'' the cable channel Comedy Central's relentlessly irreverent ``newscast.'' Anchor/host (ex-ESPN anchor and Hastings, Minn., native) Craig Kilborn is face down on the floor in front of his anchor desk attempting an unprecedented ``no-handed tongue push-up.'' It is an unnatural act that requires body fluid contact with the cold studio floor.

But his head writer (and Minneapolis native) Lizz Winstead likes what she sees.

``Ooooh, yuck! Gross!'' she cackles, keeping one eye on a monitor with a huge Komodo lizard-like close-up of Kilborn's tongue swabbing the deck. Winstead, 35, and executive producer Madeleine Smithberg are merrily -- make that, a little obsessively -- gorging themselves on an array of cut vegetables and dip, laid out before them in a dozen Styrofoam cups. Love the cuisine.

Their day began eight hours earlier and probably has another four to go before, ``I go home, order Chinese and fall asleep before it arrives,'' Winstead says.

When Comedy Central lost ``Politically Incorrect With Bill Maher'' to ABC this past January, it designated ``The Daily Show'' as the heir-apparent for its signature program, meaning Winstead, Kilborn et al didn't have the luxury of working even a few months in low-pressure obscurity. At risk of cancellation by impatient cable operators across the country, Comedy Central needed another hit.

For a veteran stand-up comic like Winstead ``The Daily Show'' concept didn't need much explanation. It's basically this: Make fun of anything and everything in the news. In particular, mock and humiliate politicians and pathetically self-inflated personalities like Sly Stallone. Also, whenever possible, give the Frank and Kathie Lees of the world another jab in the eye, and, of course, lavish lots of attention on the news of the weird.

In other words, morning-drive radio for TV.

``The first thing I do in the morning is read seven newspapers, scanning for really strange, sick stuff,'' Winstead says. ``Then I come in and have a meeting with the writers, all of whom have supposedly read their own set of papers and come up with their choices of sick stuff. Then we get together and fight over what is bizarre enough to use for that day's show.

``What's weird is how much of the weirdest stuff comes from Florida. Florida is easily the strangest state in the union,'' she says. ``If it weren't for India, it might be the strangest place on earth. India, though, is the Florida of the whole planet.''

Winstead is celebrating ``The Daily Show's'' first anniversary this month. The celebration involves regular 12-hour work days, usually six of them a week. She and the staff get six weeks off over the course of a year, but only a week at a time. But Winstead, exploiting the popularity of the ``The Daily Show,'' which is building nicely to the kind of signature, main-mast program Comedy Central needs, has already booked herself into producing a mock documentary due in late summer.

``It's the completely fake story of a drug-ravaged supermodel,'' she explains, acknowledging a modest debt to Esquire magazine's hilariously deadpan faux profile of a vacuous supermodel published a year or so ago. ``She's supposed to be a creature of the whole downtown (Manhattan) art scene, Warhol's Factory, all that. We're trying to line up Dick Cavett, Lou Reed and some others.''

Then, for real fun, she'll be back in Minnesota for three days of ``Daily Show'' filming at the State Fair.

Can't get enough of that seed art, you know.

It seems Kilborn's no-handed tongue push-up was inspired by a discussion of all the idiotic workout videos pumped out by vacuous celebrities of one sort or another. The thinking being that if Pauly Shore can do a workout tape anyone can.

The sight gag of Kilborn's tongue smearing the studio floor requires a couple staffers to hold him, off-camera, by his belt. Naturally, and entirely in the spirit of ``The Daily Show,'' Kilborn risks a crushing sexual harassment suit by first asking Winstead and Smithberg if either of them, ``Would like to hold my pelvis?''

``Oh, I've been waiting for this moment my whole life,'' cracks Winstead, searching for another change of veggie dip. But she wonders aloud, ``What was the last time you were this close to the floor without a woman you paid for underneath you?'' Kilborn, panting heavy at the exertion, expresses surprise and disgust that she'd even think such a thing.

Over the course of the year, nearly a dozen irregular segments have been built into the 30-minute show. Among these are a call from Winstead's parents, Ginny and Wilbur in Minneapolis, with ``Trivial Compromise,'' a self-contained Q&A, with high non-sequitur appeal.

Among the most popular is the show's ``Team Coverage'' of ``breaking news,'' a well-deserved slap at local news' goofball obsession with assigning 10 reporters to report snowstorms and jacknifed semis.

Winstead is one of ``Team Coverage's'' regular correspondents and her finest moment this spring was attending her first prom . . . any prom.

Having been cruelly denied the opportunity in high school, allegedly the crowning moment of validation of every girl's prep-school career, Winstead accepted the invitation of a high school senior from nearby Ramsey, N.J. This required, of course, a new 'do, a dress and all the prep she didn't get a chance to fuss over 17 years earlier.

``The real problem was that I realized I had more in common with the kid's parents than him. In fact, when I got to their house, they had me in for a drink. He couldn't have one, obviously. He's only 18. But they told me, 'You're going to need this.' ''

Discreet with the details of the big night, Winstead would only say that when the time came to leave the prom and head to the Jersey shore for an all-night camp-out/bonfire, ``I told them I'd had enough, I was going home to sleep. I mean, I'm 35!''

Given her role as head writer, the show-biz milieu and its maniacal work schedule, its only reasonable to ask if Winstead has ever been accused of being, ``The Boss From Hell''?

``Not that I know of,'' she insists, although she admits she has had to fire people.

``But we get a great type of people who want to write for this show. It's a comedy writer's dream in a lot of ways. To be able to write off of the news as it happens and get it on the air. It doesn't get a lot better than that.

``I mean, you can write for Letterman or Leno and work as long as we do and end up with maybe two of your things a week in the show. Here you're involved everyday.

``Sure, it gets nuts sometimes. But that's the fun of it.''

Copyright 1997 St. Paul Pioneer-Press
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