Photo illustration by Johansen Peralta
May 15, 2023
Inside the New York wing of the Hollywood writers’ strike
'Daily Show' writer Devin Delliquanti discusses WGA writers' demands, their take on AI, how scrappy New York picketers are, and more
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You may have heard that the Writers Guild of America — the folks who write your favorite TV shows and movies — is on strike after having failed to reach a deal on a new minimum bargaining agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers earlier this month.
For two weeks now, writers on both coasts have been picketing for fair compensation in the brave new streaming world. Strikers have shut down production of shows like “Billions,” “Daredevil,” “Born Again,” and “Severance” with crew members refusing to cross the picket lines in solidarity with the striking writers. Celebs from Pete Davidson to Amy Poehler to Bob Odenkirk to Mindy Kaling to Rage Against the Machine have showed up in support as well.
This week on “Brooklyn Magazine: The Podcast” we are joined by one of those striking writers. Devin Delliquanti is a staff writer for “The Daily Show,” which has also suspended production. He joins us to discuss what’s happening on the picket lines day-in and day-out, what writers like him are asking for, the role artificial intelligence plays in their negotiations, and how New York is showing up for an industry that is so closely associated with the West Coast.
“Anything you quote pop culturally, undoubtedly there’s going to be a writer behind it,” he says. “And nine times out of 10, that writer has been on the picket lines for the last two weeks.”
We also talk about what it’s like working on the post-Trevor Noah “Daily Show” in less strike-y times. “One of the things that makes the strike so frustrating to us is we had such momentum,” he says.
This interview has been edited for concision and clarity. You can listen to it in its entirety in the player above or wherever you get your podcasts.
We’re about two weeks into the strike. How’s the morale?
It’s been really great among the writers. The picket lines have had a lot of energy. The big rallies have really shown our spirit and dedication to this. There’s been smaller events and pickets and those have just really been through the roof. We’ve shown our resolve as a union, and we know that this is going to be a tough time and that we’re willing to keep going, keep standing up and keep being out there to let the word get out about the negotiation and all that kind of thing.
I guess the last strike lasted around 100 days. You’re a tenth of the way there. So do you think about ways to keep the momentum going? Do you feel to ways to feel reinvigorated on your own, or I guess it’s too soon to start flagging or despairing, but how are you feeling?
I feel good. I’m just looking down the calendar and trying to find events that would be good if the strike is still going. I have a couple tent poles in my mind that I’m looking toward later this month into June, hopefully not into July, but if it isn’t into July, so be it.
When you say tent poles, what do you mean? These are negotiating tent poles or deadlines or …
The Director’s Guild went in Wednesday and then SAG-AFTRA, the union that represents the actors and performers, they go in on June 7th, I think. The Writer’s Guild hasn’t heard anything back from the producers yet. Once negotiations stopped and the strike started, they haven’t gotten back to us. We don’t have any counteroffers as I know of. So the thinking is that they’re going to start their negotiation with the DGA, which was two days ago. Then in early June, the actors go in. So the thinking is that they’ll try to see what the feeling is in the room with them and then maybe come back to us if they can get a deal done with the directors or not, or if the directors want a fight the way that there’s been a fight with us over the negotiation, so who knows?
All I can do is just be on top of the picket schedule, be in touch with my team of writers that I work with, both at “The Daily Show” and outside and be in touch and try to keep the momentum going and know that if it is going to be long, we want to save our energy, but we also want to win a lot of battles now. We can do that with very few of us the way it’s been going, because three writers can shut down an entire show just given how great IATSE has been about not crossing our picket line, how good the teamsters have been about not crossing our picket line.
Wednesday of this week, WGA strikers in Williamsburg and Chelsea, to your point, shut down the filming of “Billions” for the second time in a week. Were you there for that?
No, I was not at the “Billions” one. I was at “Evil” last Friday, which, aptly named, I guess. It’s been really interesting. There have been big kickoff rallies that we had last week. We had it at the Netflix NewFronts, which is basically their version of upfronts, but it has the word “new“ in front of it, which lets you know they’re a tech company. Then there was another giant rally at HBO Amazon on Wednesday, and those are really exciting because you have a huge number of people out there. The band from “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” showed up. They were playing a bunch of music, they had horns. It was really great spirit. There’s a ton of SAG-AFTRA there. There was IATSE there, walking the line with us, and a ton of people you’d recognize: the “Severance” cast, Bob Odenkirk. But then the littler events, those are equally inspiring, if not more inspiring because those little events, it only takes three. On Friday, I was at one at in Greenpoint, we marched to a second stage and it was maybe 12 of us. The crew were honoring our picket line. So we stayed there, stayed there, stayed there.
We got a couple more writers there, and they stayed until 1 a.m. marching and they shut down the show and it became this standoff. The producers didn’t want to send the crew home because then they lose the entire day, but then they don’t want to go into overtime. But the crew have clocked in. They’re there, but they’re honoring our picket line. So three writers, one of whom I’ll shout out, Joseph Opio, who works at “The Daily Show,” he was there walking the line until 1 a.m. and they shut the show down. That shows the scope of what this fight is like for the writers is we have these huge rallies with a lot of momentum and enthusiasm, but then just three people walking in a circle chanting until 1 a.m., and through the solidarity of the entertainment unions, we were able to shut down “Evil.”
You stopped “Evil?” Thank you.
Three people can stop “Evil.” How nice is that?
So IATSE, just for our listeners, what is that?
That’s the entertainment union that represents the crew, props, sets, that kind of thing.
They’re not striking, but they’re honoring your strike. Are they getting paid when shows are shut down and they’re not crossing?
It depends on the situation. There are instances where if they have shown up to work and they’re clocked in, and then they’re loading in and we have a picket line, it is their right to not cross our picket line. We totally respect the fact that they’ve been doing it. We wouldn’t be able to do this without them in the way that we’ve done it and shutting things down the way that we have. But it just shows what this moment is in television, and they understand how existential a fight this is for the writers. But also for everyone in entertainment, the whole business has changed in the last 10 years, five years, especially in three years. I’m not sure if a lot of people know it, but there was supposed to be a negotiation that would hammer a lot of these things out in 2020. It was going to be in April, May of 2020, and then it just didn’t happen.
Because of the pandemic?
Exactly. There were larger issues going on just in terms of global health. So in that time, streaming has only become more the delivery system of entertainment and-
The pandemic accelerated all of that; we were all home watching.
Exactly. So they’ve been making a lot of shows, and they’ve been making a lot of shows very fast. What did everyone say during the pandemic? They’re like, “Oh, I got to the end of Netflix.” It’s like, well, Netflix wants to make more stuff on Netflix. They don’t ever want there to be an end of Netflix, and they need writers to be able to do that. So it’s just a matter of they’ve been able to make money doing that. So we’re just trying to get the fair share to the workers who make that, writers and beyond.
How do you frame what you guys are asking for? It boils down to residuals. Streaming services pay a single fixed residual that’s not tied to viewer numbers. How do you convey this to the lay person without sounding whiny or greedy? What’s the messaging from your end?
No, I understand. For me, if you think to how television has changed so much in the last decade and two decades, seasons of television used to be 22 episodes. You would have a writer’s room that started and then you would get a bunch of scripts going. Then they would start producing those scripts and you would keep writers on for that whole time because basically you would need to keep writing as production was happening because you would be making more and more episodes. In more recent years, seasons of TV can be six episodes, eight episodes, 10 episodes, and that’s it.
The era of 22 episode seasons is pretty much over. In addition to that, not only are the season orders shorter, which make the amount that a writer gets paid for a season can stay the same, but it has to carry you through because they’re paying by episode and there’s fewer episodes. In addition to that, in the old days, if you had a show that went to what was called syndication, think of all the episodes of “Seinfeld” that you see on TBS or “The Office” that you see on Comedy Central or whatever it is, “Everybody Loves Raymond,” those types of shows, even “The Daily Show” …
That’s a check every time.
Yeah, you get paid royalties the same way musicians make royalties. It’s the way that writers are able to live when they’re not on a show. It’s not like a traditional career necessarily where you would just have a contract that carries you through. You write a season of TV, it goes dark, you’re off, maybe you’re not on the show again, maybe the show gets canceled. You have to go find another job. It’s meant those payments are meant to carry you through so you can continue to be a writer so the industry can exist with the people who make the shows during the down times. In the era of streaming, those payments just don’t exist the way they used to. You don’t have reruns. Netflix, no one knows their streaming numbers. They’ll say, “Oh, my God, we have this massive hit show with ‘Stranger Things.’ People watch it.”
There’s no way to monetize that for the creators of the show, the writers of the show. They can try to negotiate it, but even they don’t know Netflix numbers. Netflix will say, “We have a hit,” they won’t tell anybody the numbers. So it’s a matter for the writers who are working on just everyday shows. If you work on a show and it becomes a hit, there’s no way to be successful and build a career on that necessarily from the streaming residuals. Not only that, they don’t necessarily sell the shows on DVD, or if they pull it off, that’s it. The show doesn’t exist anywhere. You can’t distribute it anywhere. Netflix can just bury it. We’ve seen a lot of that with what HBO Max or Max now is doing. So it’s a lot of those things have added up to this fight, and it’s enough that it’s not a matter of greed. The greed that we see is from the people running the companies who are getting $30 million salaries, sometimes $240 million salaries.
Who’s getting that?
The CEO of Discovery, HBO Max. So in 2021, his pay at the end of the year was something around $240 million, which is half of everything we’re asking for in one guy, in one CEO. So the fact that the entire industry is shutting down, you have the money.
The money’s there.
That’s why it’s so frustrating is the money is there. It’s a profitable industry, and it’s profitable based on the content that writers are making and that the crew are building the sets for. It’s the product that is the cornerstone of their business, and they’re willing to shut it down just to not pay the salary of a few people to the writers. It’s really confounding and frustrating, but it’s one of the reasons people are so fired up to fight is we understand that it’s not an unreasonable ask. Two percent of everything the studios are making is all that we’re asking for.
They countered with something that $86 million total per year, which again, that’s not three CEOs worth of just salary. So it’s frustrating, but that’s the reason you have three people marching until 1 a.m. in Greenpoint. That’s the reason you have the crew not crossing the lines, is they see it. They see that the money has been siphoned out of the people working to make television, and the people at the top still have the money. It’s being trying to turned into what you consider the way tech companies have people work day rates, that kind of thing. Because we’re a powerful union, because entertainment has such powerful unions, we’re able to stand up and fight for a fair wage.
There are what, almost 5,000, 4,700 members in WGA East I read?
I think total writers, 12,000 members, east and west.
So it’s obviously smaller out east than it is west, but still a sizable chunk. I actually grew up in LA, and it was very much an industry town. It’s not an industry town here. How do you maintain pressure here? You’re picketing till 1 a.m. You’ve got folks like Amy Schumer and Pete Davidson showing up on the picket lines.
That was the production that shut down the show “Evil,“ he brought those pizzas. For people who didn’t see the story, Pete Davidson showed up with a bunch of pizzas from Spumoni Gardens. They were really good.
Pete Davidson just dropped off pizza from Spumoni Gardens for striking Writer’s Guild members in Greenpoint pic.twitter.com/RjO5HgIje8
— Liam Quigley (@_elkue) May 5, 2023
Legendary Spumoni Gardens.
Legendary Spumoni Gardens! So then he marched the picket line for a bit, and then he had to go. That was the 12 writers that then walked over to the other location in Greenpoint, and we brought those pizzas with us. Those pizzas made the move in the van over to the second location, and they kept us going throughout the day. Then there was an ice cream truck that showed up at one point. There was other food that came. So some of it from us, some of us from some of the crew that were there. So it was really those things sustain us as it’s going.
New York, we’re just scrappy that way. We’re also a public transit town and city by town. The number of Instagram Reels I have seen of writers on Citibikes at 4:45 in the morning going to shut down some production or going to stand in a picket line, it’s easier to do that in New York. Just the smaller geographic area of where the studios are located makes it easy. You can be on one picket, you can hop on a train, you can go to another one. When we were at the big rally at HBO Amazon on Wednesday, there was another picket happening. I think it was for “Billions” or a Marvel show, but it was 10 blocks south.
Was it “Daredevil?”
It might have been “Daredevil.” So someone grabbed a bullhorn, it’s like, “We need writers 10 blocks south. It’s a 10-minute walk.” People broke off. People went down, and I’m not sure where the pickets are in LA exactly, but in the east, we’re able to be really nimble that way because we can break people off, we can send people around. There’s a lot of energy around that. People were looking at the 2007 strike thinking that’s going to be the model and that’s how it was going to go, but it’s adapted really quickly. I’m sure it will continue to adapt. But yeah, New York, we know how to stand up and be scrappy, even though we are small, we are mighty. I think that’s Shakespeare, who’s not in the guild, but is a writer, I would like to point out.
Would he have been pro-union? Or did he employ lots of minions and take their credit? Who knows?
Yeah, that’s a good question. According to “History of the World, Part 2,” he had a whole writers’ room. Also, Nick Kroll, who put that together was on the picket line two days ago too. So anything you quote pop culturally, undoubtedly there’s going to be a writer behind it, and nine times out of 10, that writer has been on the picket lines for the last two weeks.
The faces that I’ve seen popping up have been really, really impressive and super interesting to see. You were talking about the residuals going away with streaming. There was a writer, Valentina Garza, she recently shared her residual checks for two episodes of “Jane the Virgin.” She posted them online. They were literally for one cent and two cents. Do you have any egregiously offensive residual check amounts you want to share?
The residual formulas are such that they get smaller and smaller. So the longer you’re away from writing something you are, at least in the comedy variety world, then I’ve gotten some one- to two-cent checks for old episodes of “The Daily Show” that I’ve worked on. I’ve been writing on it since 2015, so you know what it is, if somebody buys an episode of “The Daily Show” on iTunes, maybe we’ll get a 10 cent check or something like that. But when you work on a show like “The Daily Show,” the volume of episodes is so big because we’re doing like 160 a year or something like that.
In case anyone’s wondering why the WGA is on strike, this is my streaming residual check for two episodes of Jane the Virgin. One for .01 another for .02. I think the streamers can do better. #WGAStrike #WGAStrong pic.twitter.com/IQYeLvZGrk
— Valentina Garza (@totalvaligirl) May 4, 2023
You’re doing every day, yeah.
So sometimes it’ll just be a dump of 160 one-cent checks, and in the days before, you would just get a stack of those and be like, “Okay, you have to go to the bank and deposit 160 one-cent checks.” When I was a little kid — I grew up in Los Angeles — and a good friend of mine’s mom was an actress. She had done an episode of “Charlie’s Angels,” and I saw it on television. Helen Murray was her name. She said to my mom, “Oh great, that means I’m going to be getting $1.50 in the mail in three weeks.” Then she said, “Don’t let him watch the end of the episode. I die in it.” So my mom had to turn off the episode of “Charlie’s Angels.” (Spoiler for anyone who hasn’t watched that episode of “Charlie’s Angels” yet from 30 or 35 years ago.) So that’s always been the way that residuals and royalties work. Again, it just shows it’s not a huge amount of money that’s being negotiated, it’s one-cent checks and things.
In a traditional late night show, you have 13 weeks guaranteed on a contract, and late night has huge turnover anyway. So if you get hired on a job, it can be one of the most exciting opportunities of your life, but it’s 13 weeks and that’s it. So one of the things that was countered to us by the AMPTP, the producers was, “Well, okay, maybe we’ll put in minimums for streaming, but we’ll have it be a day rate.” So you can be brought in for a single day on what would be a late night show, and you can’t make a career that way. You can’t plan your life, you can’t have a family. It just makes it near impossible, let alone the stress of going to bed every night wondering if you still have that job, and then going in and having to write jokes the next day. It’s not a sustainable format. You can only do that for so long.
Talk about the artificial intelligence element to this. Is that a real issue? Is it a red herring? AI is a useful tool. We’ve used it in, not our editorial content, but some advertising content. Is this a concern or is it just a safety net for possible future evolutions of AI?
If I’ve learned anything from the “Terminator” movies, it’s that you need a safety net against artificial intelligence. But when we were gearing up for a lot of what this negotiation was going to be three years ago, leading in last year, it wasn’t even on our radar in the way it is now because everybody saw what ChatGPT did and how it just took over the world and took over what people were talking about in the media and how it could transform so many jobs. For me, it is a thing that we have to deal with now because essentially what it’s doing is plagiarizing. That’s the big issue that we have. If it’s not generating anything new, it’s combing through existing copyrighted materials.
Endless seas of existing copyrighted materials and then synthesizing it, and spitting it back out.
Copyrighted materials made by human beings, made by writers, in some instances made by musicians, and then it’s spitting something out in the likeness. Studios would love to use that. Of course, they would love to use it. So our proposal on the table is that a writer is a human being. I don’t think that’s unreasonable to say that a writer is a human being, and I don’t think anyone is denying that it is a tool. It is a useful tool. But the thing that we propose is, “We want to regulate the use of artificial intelligence on MBA-covered projects,” which is our minimum basic agreement. We just want to have a regulation of it: AI can’t write or rewrite literary material. It can’t be used as source material. MBA-covered material can’t be used to train artificial intelligence.
Because what does that even mean? Training artificial intelligence is, “Hey, you wrote some really great scripts. I’m a studio executive. I’m going to feed those scripts into AI and then I’m going to teach the AI how to do it to replace you.” Well, we’re saying, “No, we’re not going to allow you to do that with the material written by the members of our union.” Again, that is plagiarism.
Here’s something I did early on in the strike that proves that AI just pulls from writers: I asked ChatGPT, “Do WGA writers deserve a fair deal?” The first answer that it gave me back was, “Yes, WGA writers deserve a fair deal. Writers are an essential part of the entertainment industry and are responsible for creating the stories and characters that audiences love. They deserve to be compensated fairly for their work, including receiving proper credit residuals and healthcare benefits.” So one, it’s nice that ChatGPT is showing solidarity with us in this negotiation. I really appreciate that they’re siding with us over the studios. Two, that’s how you know it just copies from writers because that’s what writers are saying, and ChatGPT is just saying what writers are saying.
Right. Well, at least it’s not pulling from what the producers and studios are saying, so there’s that.
Exactly. Not a lot of people do.
My early ChatGPT experiment was I asked ChatGPT to give me a song in the style of Prince. I wish I had saved it, but it’s atrocious. It was so bad, it was hilarious, but lots of purple.
I’m sure. One of my pet peeves around AI too is a lot of people say, “Oh, is artificial intelligence coming to replace these jobs?” That always bothers me because it’s people replacing the jobs. It’s executives replacing the jobs with AI. It’s a tech company that’s taking the jobs away from people, from human beings doing the writing and giving it to a tool that they’ve created, making wealth for themselves. It’s studio executives taking those tools in order to plagiarize what writers have created in order to make money for themselves and to maximize corporate profit. So I appreciate AI as a tool, and it’s so new that we are figuring out where it is in this negotiation, what its place is. But it all speaks to the core issue, which is the corporate greed of the whole thing and not sharing it and wanting to make everything cheaper for the studios.
Well, there’s nothing wrong with cutting costs, but I hear you.
They never cut the cost from the CEOs, though.
The first WGA strike was in 1960. It resulted in writers getting a share of profits when a movie was aired on TV. In 1973, there was a strike focused on the emerging cable market; the ’80s saw fights over a home video. 2007, as we discussed, was about the emergence of new media and online media, and you were supposed to have one in 2020 or a negotiation in 2020. This seems like a cyclical thing in the industry. This is what I’m getting at. It’s almost once a generation, the writers and the studios need a reset. Does it feel like an elaborate dance where the conclusion is foregone?
That’s a great point, and I agree with you, but what we’ve seen is there are a lot of places where there are a lot of industries that can’t have that fight. So it’d be great if it was cyclical. It’s only cyclical because we are able to have that fight. I feel like musicians weren’t able to have that fight.
They can’t unionize. It’s interesting that you say that. Snoop Dogg is out there saying, “Well, what about us? Pay us.”
If there could have been a shutdown in the music industry 10 years ago, 15 years ago, whatever it is to say, “We’re going to shut everything down until we get a fair piece of what the streaming royalties are,” I imagine that that’s a fight that they would want to have. I imagine it’s a fight that they would want to have [now] because we’ve seen how low those payments are. So it is cyclical with the WGA because we are a strong union that is able to have this fight. It also shows the studios will always try to invent something new to go around paying the people who make television, and a strong union just has to keep having the fights.This is an example of keeping our union strong.
I also think the Snoop thing is — I love that he said that — it taps into everybody sees what has happened. Everybody sees who is making the money off of this, and that it’s a very profitable model, or they tell their shareholders it’s incredibly profitable, or it’s about to be incredibly profitable, and yet writers’ pay is down. It’s down 23 percent when adjusted for inflation. You have just about 50 percent of writers working at the minimum when they’re saying it’s an incredibly profitable product. Everybody sees that, and everybody who makes television feels it. That’s why there has been so much solidarity, both with the writers across the unions, a lot of SAG-AFTRA marching with us, we know that this really is a transformational moment that we won’t get back. I guess it is comforting a little bit to know that it’s cyclical and know that hopefully there will be a fair resolution on both sides. We’re not trying to bankrupt the studios. That’s like the last thing we want to do.
Do you have any friends in the studios, any execs? Do you have any moles that can give you intel on what the current thinking is inside? Are they sweating it?
I really don’t. I wish I did. I wish I had more high-level industry contacts to tell me. But it’s funny, everybody who’s ever hired me, everyone who’s ever really trained me or taught me some of the great things that I know in this industry and has felt like a real boss to me on a show is on the picket lines, is a writer, is a showrunner. Those are the people, they’re making the shows. The showrunners I know, deal with a lot of the studios, the executives, the heads of it. So not taking away and not belittling that they have created incredible products and things, but it’s everybody that I know in the industry, working in television for 13 years now, they’re on the picket lines.
Do you have a creative outlet? Are you writing anything on the side?
It’s still so new that I haven’t started thinking about it creatively. I know a lot of people have and have been posting things online and jokes, but I’ve really just been trying to organize and be on the ground of the movement thus far. A day might come, a buddy of mine has a space booked at a comedy theater in June, so I feel like once a couple more weeks go by, I might start thinking about that. But I’m just so locked into the picket.
Yeah, there’s stuff burbling up. It’s going to be an interesting time in the clubs. There are some of the SNL newbies are doing a thing at Union Hall, I think Jordan Klepper, your colleague, is setting something up at The Bell House. Talk about your trajectory to “The Daily Show.” You went from art school to KPMG to The Onion, and now here you are.
Traditional path of art school to a big four accounting firm to a free newspaper/internet video website in the early days. [Laughs.] I went to NYU, and I studied drama and English, and I quickly realized that writing was the path I wanted to go on and that drama classes are just literature classes, writing classes, essentially, because you’re studying dramatic structure and character and I gravitated towards that, and then doing standup comedy and slowly just wrote sketches and then pivoted into making internet video in that early era. I started doing standup in 2007. I did sketch shows with buddies of mine in 2006, and then back then we got a camera, it’s going to date me, but we would have a camera with digital videotapes and you could digitize the tapes. We got a copy of Final Cut Pro from my buddy Mark Stetson. He’s a reporter who works at Mashable, who’s great and very funny.
Then eventually I was working a day job and doing standup and editing and writing sketches. I answered a Craigslist post for an internship at The Onion News Network in post-production, and it was essentially just doing video editing. It was the job of an assistant editor a couple of days a week where it wasn’t just fetch coffee or groceries or anything like that. You were sitting at basically an edit machine. Final Cut Pro, which I had taught myself through different courses online and things like that, and that was then my foot into the door of the industry, and I was able to leave my day job ’cause I got hired at The Onion to work in post-production, and every job has come off of that one break. People I met at The Onion recommended me for this morning show at VH1, and then I worked at that show “Big Morning Buzz Live.” Maybe some people in Brooklyn have seen it or seen the ads for it back in the day, probably more people worked on it than saw it. And then as that show was winding down, I had gotten the lead on the submission for The Daily Show, which was looking for writers in 2014 and then again in 2015. Then I submitted when the transition from Jon Stewart to Trevor Noah happened, and then I got hired then. I’ve been at “The Daily Show” ever since.
You were there for Trevor Noah’s full run. How was working for him? He seems as about as authentic as they come.
He is. Everything you see on television is how he is in the room, and it was terrific. I’m really grateful to all the opportunities I had working with him and “The Daily Show.” I got to write on the Grammys three times, which was really bucket list thing for me, and I’m really proud to have done that.
What’s the vibe been like since he left? He left four months ago. Obviously you guys are not in production now, but do we have any sense of the path forward?
The rotating host thing has been incredibly fun. We were all really nervous going into it because obviously Trevor needed to leave and was ready for a change, so we were really anxious going into that. But Leslie Jones the first week just knocked it out of the park, and it was so much fun. We just all really enjoyed it. She came in and loved the process. You can hear it on her podcast. She talks about how much fun she had on the show and how she didn’t know what to expect going in. It’s been a testament to how well the show runs, and we almost forgot it because we’re so used to making it and so used to what our day is like. People go in and they’re like, “This is an unbelievable machine that just makes a show every day and is a lot of fun to do and put something out for the audience.”
Kal Penn was the host in early April, late March, something like that. He came in and on the second day, he said, that was the most fun I’ve had on a set since “Harold and Kumar,” the first one. I hope I’m not blowing up his spot by saying that. All of the guest hosts in some way have said how much fun it is and how much they enjoyed the process, so it’s echoed how we felt. It’s been a lot of energy. I don’t know what the future holds. That’s something that’s happening among the network executives and the showrunner figuring out what the future for the show is. But we were just going week to week. I was just trying to prepare and get whoever the hosts for that week, try to get their voice in my head as much as possible, which was also really fun. Watching Sarah Silverman standup or Chelsea Handler standup or John Leguizamo’s “Latin History for Morons,”
Al Franken was a guest host.
Listening to Al Franken’s podcast, listening to Wanda Sykes’ standup and just iconic people who I was so excited to work with and to work for, and then of course, the correspondents that we have on the show who are so talented and they just know there’s no learning curve with them. They know how to pilot the ship; Roy Wood Jr., Jordan Klepper, Desi Lydic. We were looking forward to weeks with Ronnie Chang and Lewis Black. My God, writing a week of “Daily Show” for Lewis Black? What a dream that would be.
Then the producers know how to give you everything to watch the news stories. Then you come in and the writers pepper it with jokes, and then you put a structure together. The operation has just been built over 25 going on 30 years. It’s cool to see iconic comedians step into it and their voices just fit and work with it. It’s been so much fun for us as writers to adapt to it and to write things for them. So it’s one of the things that makes the strike so frustrating to us is we had such momentum. It’s been such a hard three years with Covid, and then trying to figure out if we’re going on a show with no audience or going to a show with an audience and then getting our feet under us, and then Trevor needing to leave.
I think either Colbert or Jon Stewart said, it always stuck with me is, “What you see on TV is a reflection of the joy we had making the show.” It’s a bummer that it’s shut down right now. But that just shows how big and existential a fight this is, is we know that we need to get this thing squared away and then we can get back to making “The Daily Show” and figuring out what the future of it holds.
Do you have any on-camera aspirations? You’re good-looking. You’re well-spoken.
Oh, come on. On a podcast, no less. So they’re imagining me as, I want to say a combination of Chris Hemsworth and Chris Evans. Any Chris.
All the Chrises combined.
Take a handsome Chris and put them in a blender, and that is Devin Delliquanti. No, I just love writing so much. I haven’t really thought about it. I’ll do anything that will serve the joke that day.
Check out this episode of “Brooklyn Magazine: The Podcast” for more from Hanif. Subscribe and listen wherever you get your podcasts.
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