Richard Dawkins on The Daily Show

As you may know from Greg Mayer’s post five minutes before airtime, Richard Dawkins was on The Daily Show last night, being interviewed by Jon Stewart about Richard’s new autobiography, An Appetite for Wonder.  You can find the full episode here, with Dawkins appearing at 13:33 until the end of the show at 36:00 (just move the video cursor to the second black mark).

The discussion is worth watching, as Richard acquits himself well (see his concise explanation of the limits of “selfish genes” at 22:00), but Stewart hadn’t really done his homework, and missed some chances to delve more deeply into things he brought up, like the incompatibility of science and religion (Stewart mentions it twice). Instead, Jon is all over the map about topics as diverse as morality, the origin of life, and so on.  And, in trying to cover too many topics, Stewart doesn’t let Dawkins go into any detail about a single one, as in the discussion about whether religion really can provide net benefits to humanity. He permits Richard only to emit a series of sound bites. Nevertheless, a message got out, and that’s better than nothing.

Sadly, there’s no indication that Stewart even read Richard’s book!  Finally, the host talks too much. A rule of interviewing, to which I’ll scrupulously  adhere next Thursday, is to let the interviewee do at least 75% of the talking.

Finally, I don’t appreciate Stewart’s comment on cats at 34:15!

41 Comments

  1. Mark
    Posted September 25, 2013 at 7:27 am | Permalink

    It’s the Jon Stewart Show, and he will ensure that it’s all about him, no matter the guest.

  2. Dominic
    Posted September 25, 2013 at 7:29 am | Permalink

    Well you know RD has a d*g!

  3. Greg Esres
    Posted September 25, 2013 at 7:32 am | Permalink

    Sadly, there’s no indication that Stewart even read Richard’s book! Finally, the host talks too much. A rule of interviewing, to which I’ll scrupulously adhere next Thursday, is to let the interviewee do at least 75% of the talking.

    I can’t imagine that most interviewers who talk to authors have read the books in question. Who has the time? Perhaps more commonly, a staffer reads/skims the book and prepares a briefing sheet.

    Agreed with the problem of interviewers talking too much; even the revered DJ Grothe was guilty of that on occasion, IMO.

    • Posted September 25, 2013 at 8:00 am | Permalink

      The ones I know (all two of them) always came to their interviews prepared. They made the time. On the other hand, they aren’t “fake news” people who need to make their #1 priority the writing and vetting of comedic material. So it’s probably a pretty tall order to expect Jon Stewart to be Charlie Rose in his spare time.

    • Marella
      Posted September 25, 2013 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

      The interviewers I listen to all make an effort to read the book, and aplogise for not finishing it if that be the case.

  4. jay
    Posted September 25, 2013 at 7:57 am | Permalink

    Keep in mind that the Daily Show is NOT an interview show. It’s a comedy show that interviews some interesting people.

    • Posted September 25, 2013 at 7:59 am | Permalink

      Yes, but if it interviews some interesting people, and that interview occupies 20 minutes of a 30-minute show, then don’t you think the interview should be revealing and interesting. Because this one wasn’t even funny (“Hey, Richard, do you want to go out and get stoned later?”)

      • Gregory Kusnick
        Posted September 25, 2013 at 10:30 am | Permalink

        Actually the interview typically takes up about a third of a 22-minute show (not counting ads).

        If the interview runs overtime, they put the rest of it up on the web. But the broadcast portion of the interview is about 7 or 8 minutes tops.

      • Posted September 25, 2013 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

        The answer is “no” to your question “shouldn’t it be revealing and interesting?” It’s a comedy show. It should be funny and entertaining.

        • darrelle
          Posted September 26, 2013 at 5:50 am | Permalink

          I don’t see why one has to preclude the other. I am sure that if Stewart were to be asked he would say that he tries to achieve both of those things. In fact he has said as much more than once.

          So, I don’t think “no” is a very accurate answer. Your intended tone did shine through clearly though.

      • Posted September 26, 2013 at 1:23 am | Permalink

        The interview is about 7 minutes from the 22 minutes show. A full extended interview 3 times that, 22 minutes, can be obtained from the website.

        Jon Stewart is one of my favorite, and even if he did not really dig into Dawkins, he was being humble about it (he claimed that he is stupid, must miss something etc).

        The interview was more funny light, not scientifically satisfying. But being Comedy Central, and the exposure it got, I think it was definitely positive. Dawkins was shown as a (very) decent human being to millions of people.

    • Jonathan Dore
      Posted September 26, 2013 at 2:40 am | Permalink

      Yes, and it’s a combination that often doesn’t gel. A while back I remember JS interviewing the historian Peter Mancall, who’d just published a new book about the 17th-century English explorer Henry Hudson. Mancall knew what was expected of him so came well-prepared with super-pared-down thumbnails of what his book was about. He’s a fine scholar, but his book has absolutely zero comedic potential, and you could see him wondering “what am I doing here?”

  5. freethinkinfranklin
    Posted September 25, 2013 at 8:07 am | Permalink

    FYI go to http://www.thedailyshow.com/ and see the full interview its 3 segments long. Mr Dawkins makes some good points despite Jons attempt to crack wise….
    We need to pay scientists more and pop singers less!!

  6. sgo
    Posted September 25, 2013 at 8:09 am | Permalink

    I saw it yesterday (as I commented in the other thread), but don’t recall the Selfish Gene even being mentioned … ? Is this an extended version with parts that were not aired? If so, I’ll have to watch this tonight.

    As I said in the other thread, at least the interview that I saw was disappointing. Some jabs back and forth about science and faith, but absolutely nothing about the book!

    • Posted September 25, 2013 at 8:13 am | Permalink

      Yes, there’s internet-only material. Still nothing about the book, though. There’s a mention before the first break that the discussion continues online, but not sure if that made it to TV.

  7. Gnome
    Posted September 25, 2013 at 8:27 am | Permalink

    Normally I think Jon does an excellent job with his interviews. He holds right wing guests’ feet to the fire in a way that no one else does.

    But I’m pretty sure Jon is a faithiest so he needs to keep pressing on the ‘goodness of faith’ with Richard Dawkins. I think Richard handled Jon’s skittish approach quite well.

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted September 25, 2013 at 9:02 am | Permalink

      Since Jon Stewart’s wife is Catholic (as is his colleague Stephen Colbert), it seems quite likely he is going to talk about the “goodness of faith”, and thus going to be at least semi-faitheist (although I think that word covers a spectrum covering several different ideas and one could hold some but others).

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted September 25, 2013 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

      I dunno. I have a bad habit of thinking people think like me but I saw a quote attributed to him, “Religion. It’s given people hope in a world torn apart by religion.”

      I think he may not be all that faith-y.

      I heard a great interview with him on Neil deGrasse Tyson’s podcast a while back and he is a very smart, well read guy (no guarantees this makes him less faith-y though).

  8. Steven Obrebski
    Posted September 25, 2013 at 8:37 am | Permalink

    I have seen shows where Jon Stewart has clearly read the book and generated a really good discussion and exchange of ideas or bashed a right wing nut good and proper. The Dawkins interview was disappointing.

    • darrelle
      Posted September 25, 2013 at 8:52 am | Permalink

      My thoughts exactly.

    • Diane G.
      Posted September 25, 2013 at 11:26 am | Permalink

      With a daily show, I suppose anyone can have an off night.

  9. Alex T
    Posted September 25, 2013 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    I know The Daily Show is a comedy show not an interview or news show, but I’m always struck by the contrast between Stewart and Colbert. Stewart just shoots the breeze, asking crappy questions and generally chatting. Colbert is very focused on the material and uses his pseudo-gotchas to let the guests dig into the meat of their areas. It’s still ultimately a comedy show and the guests better be concise or they’ll get cut off, but it shows you can be funny, tight and remain topical.

    I really wish that Dawkins went onto Colbert instead. Alas.

    • darrelle
      Posted September 25, 2013 at 10:39 am | Permalink

      I would agree with your take on Stewart regarding the specific interview of Dawkins last night, but not in general. More often than not I like his interviews and think he often asks good questions, and seems to have done his homework. But last night was, to me, very noticeably different. It seemed like he was totally unprepared, and that perhaps science is simply a weak spot of his. I don’t know if he is actually as ignorant of science as some of his statements and questions would seem to indicate or whether that was just part of his act. If part of his act I think it failed badly.

      Sometimes it is hard to tell what is part of his assumed character and what is not, but he sure seemed to be playing some of the typical accommodationist cards last night. He definitely had a bad night.

      Dawkins has been on Colbert before, more than once I think. Last night Colbert easily beat out Stewart, if for no other reason than having had Metallica on as musical guests playing For Whom The Bell Tolls.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted September 25, 2013 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

        He is actually very versed in science. He told Neil deGrasse Tyson when Tyson interviewed him that his favourite element is carbon: “I’m a huge carbon guy. I enjoy the molecular slut of the table of elements. It will bond with anything. It’s ridiculous. And by the way, four bonds.”

        Hilarious.

    • Michael
      Posted September 25, 2013 at 11:08 am | Permalink

      I think it`s exactly the other way around.

      Colbert can be really annoying when he plays his character. Sometimes this helps but most of the time it`s a waste of a perfectly good chance to get some knowledge points of an interesting person.

      Stewart normally is better prepared and really interested in the guests opinion and tries to learn from them. That`s one of the reasons his interviews often are longer and viewers can see the rest on the web (like in Dawkins case above, the unaired part of the interview was good).

      Neil deGrasse Tyson also said that in his opinion Stewart was the best interviewer (and Conan the worst).

  10. Jeremy Nel
    Posted September 25, 2013 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    Anyone have any links for those of us not in the USA? (There’s a YouTube clip up already, but frustratingly of only the first 7 minutes.)

    Amusingly, the link above asks you to try another site (which I also can’t seem to access), “in case you can’t give up your free healthcare and move to America.”

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted September 25, 2013 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

      Ha ha I got that too. It should direct you to comedy central if you’re in Canuckistan or elsewhere depending on what country you’re in. I assume you’re in Canuckistan based on the funny healthcare remark so you can find it here.

  11. Posted September 25, 2013 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    Richard Dawkins? I don’t see no Richard Dawkins! All I see is ads that repeat over and over. It probably wasn’t worth it anyway.

    • Posted September 25, 2013 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

      No repeating ads if one has AdBlock.

  12. Mave
    Posted September 25, 2013 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    I’m a big Stewart fan. Stewart was awful for all the reasons cited above, and blew the opportunity for a good interview. Everyone has a bad day.

    But this wasn’t the big Richard Dawkins news yesterday — that belongs to ex-Pope Razi telling atheist mathematician/science popularizer Piergiorgio Odifreddi that “Richard Dawkins’s The Selfish Gene is a classic example of science fiction.” This is stupidly in response to Odifreddi’s calling Christianity sci-fi in his book, Caro Papa, To Scrivo.

    Razi goes on about science fiction in science:

    The great Jacques Monod wrote the sentences that he has inserted in his work certainly just as science fiction. I quote: “The emergence of tetrapod vertebrates … draws its origin from the fact that a primitive fish chose to go and explore the land, on which, however, was unable to move except jumping clumsily and thus creating, as a result of a modification of behavior, the selective pressure due to which would have developed the sturdy limbs of tetrapods. Among the descendants of this bold explorer, Magellan of this evolution, some can run at a speed of over 70 miles per hour … “

  13. Posted September 25, 2013 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    A more in depth interview here.

  14. Posted September 25, 2013 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    The interview was very disappointing, for the reasons pointed out by Jerry and several posters above. I felt sorry for Richard as the discussion went off on barely relevant tangents, and Stewart was constantly interrupting.

    This is a missed opportunity, because Stewart is a genuine intellectual and a fan of science. A realist. Progressive.

    For me, this was the worst interview I’ve ever seen him do, and what a pity given who the interviewee was.

    Looking forward to seeing Richard here in the SF Bay Area in early October.

    • scottoest
      Posted September 25, 2013 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

      Jon is a smart guy, and certainly a progressive person, but he’s also one of the typical “everything can co-exist with everything” false equivalency liberals, and it showed in this interview.

      I hope his ignorance in this interview, convinces him to actually read one of Richard’s books.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted September 25, 2013 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

      I think Richard handled himself quite well though.

  15. Diana MacPherson
    Posted September 25, 2013 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    I PVR’d it and I’m going to watch later so I can’t read all the comments first because of spoilers. LOL! :D

  16. scottoest
    Posted September 25, 2013 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

    The first two segments of the (full) interview were a bit cringe inducing, and I say that as a big fan of the Daily Show. Jon clearly hasn’t given some of these issues nearly as much thought as Dawkins has, and he also clearly wasn’t familiar with Dawkins’ work. His description of what he thought “The Selfish Gene” was about, was hilariously terrible, and Richard seemed stunned by it.

    The third segment was better, though it still features a lot of assertions by Jon that left me rubbing my brow.

    To Jon’s credit, he did take a few shots at himself for clearly being out of his depth in the discussion, and how beyond his intellect some of these issues are. He does the same thing when Neil deGrasse-Tyson is on.

    I didn’t mind at all that Jon did a lot of the talking, because that’s how he “interviews” people – it’s more of a discussion, where he tries to satisfy his own curiosity. It’s a fantastic format when he’s calling politicians and pundits out on their nonsense in long form – it just worked less well here, because he didn’t really understand what he was talking about most of the time.

    I’d actually like to see a 1-2 hour long discussion between Stewart and Dawkins, because I think Richard could probably reach an understanding with him, given enough time.

    • Posted September 25, 2013 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

      Actually, I have to second this. A 1-hour or 2-hour conversation between Stewart and Dawkins would be fascinating, I think… but I also think Jon’s Catholic colleague, Stephen Colbert, would be the one to go for it. I always found it interesting that Colbert, as staunch a Catholic as he is (he’s a Sunday School teacher, after all), has been a huge ally of atheists (enough to be featured in the Unbelievers documentary).

      Colbert’s always been more sympathetic to atheists than Stewart, and I always found that a bit odd. Should it be the other way around?

  17. Trophy
    Posted September 26, 2013 at 5:25 am | Permalink

    I really like Jon Stewart but he cannot interview scientists or atheists. Unfortunately, he has very limited scientific knowledge which limits his ability in asking good and through-provoking questions. On the other hand, when it comes to certain political topics, he is more knowledgeable. IMO, his best interviews happen with political writers, specially regarding social inequality.

    So yeah, I had to lower my expectations before watching the interview and I think I enjoyed it because of it.

  18. cornbread_r2
    Posted September 26, 2013 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    I don’t know if the sound on my television was temporarily muted by interference or not, but it seemed to me that Richard got less than a warm welcome from the audience that almost all other guests get. Did anyone else notice this?

    • Posted September 26, 2013 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

      While the music was playing, I almost didn’t hear the audience at all. But once the music stopped, I definitely heard a warm welcome for him…


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