Daily Show Slips Into Iran, Thrives on Chaos
Jason Jones in "Iran: Behind the Veil"
Just weeks before the Iranian election, The Daily Show dispatched correspondent Jason Jones and producer Tim Greenberg to Iran to look into stereotypes Americans might hold about the country. Their reports, which will begin airing Wednesday night (Comedy Central, 11 pm ET/PT), couldn't be more timely. Iranian authorities are violently cracking down on protestors who have filled the streets to protest President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's re-election. With new restrictions barring reporters from covering stories in the streets, many Iranians are notifying each other and the world of new developments via blogs, Facebook, and Twitter. Though Jones' reports were supposed to begin airing next week, the show moved up the first to seize the moment. Or as Jones explains, "We wanted to give an Iranian feel to our piece. Which is chaos."
TVGuide.com: How did you get into Iran? Did you travel on journalists' visas?
Jason Jones: We were mistakenly given journalists' visas, yes. For some reason they didn't do their background and realize we weren't actually journalists, but we had journalists' cards, yes.
Greenberg: Like most places in the world, they treat us like journalists. It's up for debate if we are or not. ... Before we left I sat down with the [Iranian] press attaché in New York and had a long conversation and he knew who we were. But then when we got there we had to have another meeting ... with the head of the Islamic Council of whatever foreign press office. Because at that point he had only really figured out who we were. He sat us down and shook our hands and stared us in the eye and gave us gifts and asked what we were doing, basically.
Jason Jones: He hadn't seen my expose on rival midget Kiss bands.
TVGuide.com: What did you say you were doing?
Greenberg: We told him the truth. We didn't exactly get into some of the details that might have upset him, but we explained that we were looking at — trying to expose stereotypes that Americans might have about Iran.
TVGuide.com: What did you find?
Greenberg: In the vast majority of cases they were not true. In fact I can't really think of how they were true. Jason?
Jones: Other than they're all terrorists, no.
Greenberg: One thing about the visas that I think was interesting is it was much harder to get all the various clearances from the American government than it was from the Iranian government. Like, our trip got delayed by months just trying to deal with, "How can we pay somebody there?"
Jones: And also, Tim being American, he was fingerprinted going in. I, being Canadian, walked in free and clear.
TVGuide.com: Do you wish you were there now to witness the history, or are you happy to not be there now?
Jones: Hmmm. Let me think. Would I like to be hit by a baton from a paramilitary militia on a motorcycle? Yeah, I wish I was there. ... No, I think we're both very glad that we're home and safe.
Greenberg: There's a part of us that I'm sure would like to be there witnessing it.
Jones: Speak for yourself. I'm witnessing it just fine via the Internet.
Greenberg: I'm not sure that trying to make jokes in the middle of all that is entirely safe or appropriate.
TVGuide.com: Did you find yourself in the middle of any breaking news?
Greenberg: Definitely people that we've interviewed, suddenly, we're reading about in the papers and hearing reports on the news and they're right there. Even that one degree of separation is kind of startling for us.
TVGuide.com: Did the irony of what you do cross the cultural boundaries? Did you worry about offending people?
Greenberg: Both. We certainly were worried about it, but for the most part it was surprising how quickly they understood where we were coming from.
Jones: The majority of the country is under 30. Most of the people we spoke to of that age got it and understood what we were doing and really enjoyed that we were doing what we were doing. Because there's no other comedy shows from the west doing anything in Iran.
TVGuide.com: Had anyone seen The Daily Show?
Jones: There were a few fans there.
TVGuide.com: Do you think comedy or satire can help expand democracy in Iran?
Greenberg: Probably not much. ... I would think any exposure [in Iran] that there's something else going on there is helpful, but — you know.
Jones: Have you seen this guy, the ayatollah? I don't know how much of a sense of humor he has. ... We're talking about two different things, the people and the government. I think the people, absolutely. The government? Ehh, remains to be seen, maybe.
TVGuide.com: What was the most awkward moment in the interviews?
Jones: It wasn't so much an awkward moment in the interviews for me. It was the awkward moment of being kicked out of a city and having to back to our hotel, pack our bags and leave.
TVGuide.com: Did that really happen?
Jones: Yes. We were politely asked to leave. We were shooting in one of the holier towns and I guess we were reported to the interior ministry and when we went to get some just random paperwork our fixer came back saying, "Okay, time to go."
TVGuide.com: What most surprised you about the trip?
Greenberg: I was surprised at how the jokes translated, how the people got us. There wasn't nearly as much of a cultural barrier in those kinds of ways as I would've expected.
Jones: The biggest surprise to me is that my boss, Jon Stewart, is the world's sh---iest travel agent.
Watch the show's Iran coverage in the clip below: