Last night, I stayed up late — 10 o’clock being my definition of late — to watch my national TV debut on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
For the better part of a month, the show has been hanging over my head like my own personal sword of Damocles. In fact, on the way back from Birmingham where I had taped the segment early last month, I was quite certain the decision to participate in the show was probably the worst decision I had ever made sober.
For those who missed the show — for all I know it aired opposite an episode of Duck Dynasty, which would have guaranteed a small audience — the segment concerned gay marriage.
Weeks ago, when I told some of my co-workers I would be on the show, one woman asked what the segment was about. I told her it was about gay marriage.
“Oh,” she said, pausing. “Are you gay?”
I realized then that the story of how a TV producer in New York wound up approaching a small-town newspaper editor to discuss this issue on TV warranted some explanation.
In September, Matt Polidoro, one of the producers for The Daily Show, called the newspaper wanting to get in touch with the person responsible for writing the July 18 editorial that ran in The Dispatch under the headline, “Legalization of same sex marriage only a matter of time.”
In that editorial — which like all our editorials, represents the opinion of the paper’s editorial board — I had written that while marriage means different things to different people, the one universally accepted is that marriage is a legal contract. As such, the grounds for denying people the ability to enter into that contract on the basis of sexual orientation were hopelessly flawed. Gay marriage would someday be recognized in every state. I also suggested that, even so, Mississippi would be the last state to sanction same sex marriage.
Meanwhile, back in New York, Nate Silver, the statistical genius at the New York Times, had arrived at a similar conclusion. Based on his statistical research, he said it was likely that Mississippi or Alabama would be the last state to sanction gay marriage.
Silver’s assertion caught the attention of the producers at The Daily Show and the idea for the segment would be an examination of the “competition” between Mississippi and Alabama to see which state would be last. The producer wanted me to make the case for Mississippi. A civil rights lawyer was chosen to present Alabama’s case for being last.
I agreed to participate for two reasons.
First, I felt that in the editorial we were on the right side of the issue. Furthermore, Mississippi has been the well-deserved fodder for a variety of comedy shows, including The Daily Show. I felt it was important to get the message out that Mississippians are not monolithic in their views on this subject. I thought my appearance on the show would be an effective way to make that point.
The other reason was vanity. There is no escaping it. The idea of being on a national TV show greatly appealed to my ego. I had become Damocles, eager to ascend the throne of pop culture.
But when I arrived for the taping of the segment, I quickly realized that I had absolutely no control over how the segment would turn out or how I would be portrayed. Without going into detail, those well-measured, thoughtful responses I had prepared were twisted and distorted to achieve the greatest comedic effect.
As I drove home, I was convinced that I was going to be little more than a prop in another “hit piece” on Mississippi.
I was certain I had embarrassed myself, my newspaper, my community and my state.
During the drive home, it occurred to me I had learned a lot about people that day. People can be vain, prideful, naive and easily manipulated. And by “people” I mean, of course, me.
And so I waited for that sword, dangling there by that single thread, to drop on me in the form of the broadcast of that segment.
But it was not the disaster I feared it would be. For that, I am eternally grateful.
My greatest fears turned out to be unfounded. I was not cast as some sort of back-water boob. Nor was Mississippi vilified in the segment.
In fact, by the end both Mississippi and Alabama wound up being cast in a somewhat hopeful light.
It was also funny, which is the whole point as far as The Daily Show folks are concerned.
The show will be re-broadcast tonight at 6:30 on Comedy Central.
I am glad it’s over, to be honest.
Like Damocles, I’ve learned to be content where I am, being who I am.
But I had to sweat some to learn it.
Clip from The Daily Show: http://bit.ly/1itunVQ
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]