Foreign correspondency on the fake news of “The Daily Show” usually amounts to someone standing in front of a video screen a few steps away from Jon Stewart’s desk.
But to coincide with the Olympics, the show’s Rob Riggle went to China – for real.
His skewed travelogue, “Rob Riggle: Chasing the Dragon,” unfolds starting tonight on Comedy Central.
“It was an opportunity to go over to China and do something that has probably not been done in the past – go to China and do some comedy,” says Riggle, a former U.S. Marine who served in Afghanistan.
Riggle, who last year traveled to Iraq for “Operation Silent Thunder,” started planning by applying in January for journalists’ visa. With the intercession of MTV executives in China, he got the go-ahead less than 24 hours before his plane was due to leave on July 29.
Trying to explain what “The Daily Show” did would have been difficult. Riggle and field producer Glenn Clements essentially delivered a list of places where they planned to film.
They were able to film segments on the Great Wall of China and within Tiananmen Square, the latter historic site the focus of debates with Chinese authorities over access.
“Our motto was, ‘Let’s just go until they tell us to stop,’ ” Riggle says.
Riggle and his crew were followed almost everywhere by Chinese police, although only once was a hand placed over a camera lens cap – while filming the outside of a 7-11 store.
Other times when police expressed concern about what the crew was doing Clements essentially hid behind the language barrier.
When they stopped on the street to do some filming, crowds would immediately form around them, attracting more police.
But anytime Clements’ crew tried turning the camera around and speaking to Chinese citizens, the crowds would scatter. As a result, only a foreign journalist and Chinese newscaster were interviewed for the series.
Even for an ex-Marine, the police state atmosphere was intimidating.
“There were moments where you were just being watched very closely,” Riggle says. “We still did what we wanted to do, but I was hurrying it up, saying ‘Come on, come on, let’s go.’ It was a subconscious thing.”
Riggle also was surprised to be recognized on the street – twice. One young Asian couple came up and said how much they enjoyed watching him on Stewart’s show, leading him to wonder where they had seen it.
Tonight’s first segment will be a mock “up close and personal” look at Riggle and his journey to the Olympics. Also planned: a tongue-in-cheek look at the exotic and mysterious places in China, hence the trips to 7-11 and Western-style shopping malls.
The team also will take some shots at the Chinese authoritarian government and a critical look at history, much the same way as “The Daily Show” satirizes the U.S. government, Clements says.
“Jon always has a very good sense of what’s in good taste and bad,” he says, “and we’ll try to stay within the bounds of what we think is good taste. We didn’t go in there to make fun of the Chinese people at all.”
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