Comedy Central's The Daily Show is the standard-bearer of today's comic zeitgeist, with its postironic mlange of Catskills commentary and current-events indignation. Now die-hard fans curious to see the roots of this style of rib-tickling invention finally have their chance: The IFC Center is hosting an anthology of short films by the mock newscast's writing staff.
The uneven collection provides an intriguing glimpse into the eclectic, ingenious minds that fuel Jon Stewart's keen satire. The production values vacillate between polished, network-quality skits and crude film-school fodder, but the humor is never less than clever. Among the best offerings is the pilot for Onion alum Ben Karlin's "Deadline: Now," a spot-on local-news spoof developed for Fox in 1997, just as The Daily Show was taking form at Comedy Central.
Many of the shorts are deft parodies of the stuffy PBS approach to the documentary format. Sharpest of these is Chris Regan and Eric Drysdale's "Sanford Van Johnson: A Life Near the Theater," about a blowhard who delivers haughty assessments of Broadway legends from his 60-square-foot apartment. Also cleverly silly is Scott Jacobson's genderending "Partners in Blues," which spotlights a gay black guitarist who practices "alternative blues"—even collaborating on a song with Gore Vidal. As a whole, the shorts are a potluck of styles and sensibilities, but they're also a rare look at some of the most fertile social commentators working in television today.—Stephen Garrett