Blogs & Comment

The Daily Show assignment

A serious writer goes comedy.

Canadian Business writer Tim Shufelt and Daily Show reporter Jason Jones on assignment.

Canadian Business writer Tim Shufelt and Daily Show reporter Jason Jones on assignment.

I figured a feature on a maple syrup heist would get some attention. It’s too weird of a story to ignore. It’s too Canadian. But I certainly didn’t expect the Daily Show to come calling. A couple of months after my story on a $20 million maple syrup robbery in Quebec ran in Canadian Business, a producer from the Daily Show with Jon Stewart got in touch with me asking for contacts. The show was producing a segment on the syrup theft and was having trouble contacting some of the people I quoted in my story.

The show needed someone to set the piece up, give a little background on the industry and talk about the robbery. But Quebec police declined to speak on camera. So they asked me if I’d take part in the segment. I wanted to say no. I’ve been watching the Daily Show for 10 years and I know how these segments play. These are professional comedians. Interview subjects usually come off looking dumb or oblivious. Also, this is an industry I looked into for all of two weeks for my story. I gave the producer some other names of people who were more qualified to talk maple syrup. I could personally only offer second and third-hand information.

But they were insistent that they wanted me. It was just one of those things. I had to say yes—so I did.

The show initially planned on sending a correspondent and a crew to Toronto to shoot in the Rogers building—Rogers Communication owns Canadian Business. I asked who would be conducting the interview. Jason Jones, the producer said. As a friend of mine put it, “Just two Rye High grads talking maple syrup.” Jones is a Canadian, a graduate of Ryerson University’s theatre program and is possibly the most sarcastic of all Daily Show contributors. But having already sent Jones and staff up to Quebec to interview a syrup industry spokesman, the show wanted to know if I’d be willing to come to New York instead.

shufelt 02I was a little bewildered when I cracked the door of a studio in midtown Manhattan. Two chairs sat facing each other, behind that a crew arranged a living room scene, apparently to match a shoot from the night before. A producer showed me a still from that footage. Wearing a robe and fur hat, Jones sat on a couch surrounded by strippers, holding a jar of maple syrup. “I poured syrup all over them,” he said. I was starting to get the idea of what they had planned for the segment. I already knew how they wanted me to set it up. My identity would be disguised and I would talk about the industry and the heist, without using the words “maple syrup.” Then the reveal, Jones gets mad, swears at the crew, asks for the lights to come up, and there I am. We talked for a couple of hours, did take after take after take, I screwed up a lot, tried not to laugh when he asked something absurd and did my best to play it straight.

The segment came off even funnier than I expected, with Jones questioning the Quebec industry spokesman as if he were a drug lord and asking a syrup merchant if he knew anything about the “stolen Canadian sticky.” He transformed himself into a syrup junkie and poured out lines of maple syrup on a glass table. I’m glad I was able to play the straight man to Jones’s misinformed investigative journalist persona. I won’t soon forget the sight of him kneeling in a New Jersey forest trying to suck sap from a spout in a tree. One of those perks of the job that makes it all worthwhile.

Check out the segment.