Adam Chodikoff - Senior Producer at the Daily Show

Adam Chodikoff (T’93), Senior Producer, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart

Q: Why choose political science?

Growing up I always loved the struggle for power. I would go to the library and read old Art Buchwald collections. He was writing all these columns about Dean Rusk and Robert
McNamara. I didn’t know what the heck I was doing, but I found those funny and I liked “Doonesbury” and SNL. That’s more comedy related, but I was always interested in politics,
especially American elections, and then I later developed this interest in just pure policy. If I had gone to another school I may have gone the more traditional TV/communications routes. For Duke I think poli-sci was the right choice. It certainly helps with my current job.

Q: What aspect of your education at Duke have you found to be the most important since graduating?

Definitely for my job, having an interest in how American politics work. How a bill becomes a law— beyond Schoolhouse Rock. How Congress works, how the committee system works. The relationship between the various branches—that definitely helps, especially with something like our coverage of the Zadroga bill, which was something that we covered four years ago. That’s the 9/11 first responders bill, and how that was being stymied in Congress and what path it had to take and who’s blocking it and what they had to do to pass it. That was a big push for us, something we very intensely covered. So that’s where my [political science] background really came to the fore. During our coverage of that, you can look at those things on Dailyshow.com, and you can track it and even when we weren’t doing it, just to keep focus on it and what’s the next step and who’s blocking it and who are the key people stymieing it. We do probably the most in-depth coverage of Congress of any late-night show in history. We cover hearings, floor debates, and filibusters, so that is something where a poli-sci background helped. I’m the go-to guy on the show for that sort of thing. So Jon, or the writers will ask me to explain: What’s going on here, what’s the update? So it helps to be able to read between the lines or give flesh to just plain old newspaper stories. Another important part of my job is to help prepare Jon for our big interviews with politicians and pundits: Barack Obama, Marco Rubio, Susan Rice, Charles Krauthammer, etc. Again, my Duke poli-sci training proves to be valuable. My understanding of government helps me to formulate questions, arguments, and counterarguments for the interview segments. Digging deep into politics and policy can produce excellent fodder for those segments.

Q: What advice do you have for current Duke students pursuing a political science degree?

I think it’s a great major. It’s hard for me because I’m not the typical student. I guess most polisci majors go to law school or go to work in D.C. I didn’t do any of those things. I really took the path less taken. My advice ventures more how to get your start in TV, but I consider it to be a good allaround major. You can’t go wrong knowing how the political process works. The war goes on every day, the war between the parties, and the war between the various media outlets. It grows more and more intense, and having the comprehension of how things really work in D.C. and the legislature is an advantage. It can help you in various other fields; it’s helped me in my extremely, extremely unique field. Usually when I’m asked for advice, it’s how do I break into the business? If you’re trying for some other late-night, basic-cable political satire show, a poli-sci major is going to be a big boon and a big advantage. I guess that’s the best advice I can give.

Q: What is your favorite memory from your time at Duke?

I was there for the back-to-back championships, so that’s, I guess, the most exuberant memory; We won in ’91 and ’92, and the celebrations and watching them in Cameron. And losing in ’90 to UNLV. People were coming back crying from that game! That was intense! Pride and being able to keep my head above water in one of the top schools in the world, and being able to graduate with a decent GPA and being academically competitive and being able to keep up with the top students and the top professors. The biggest honor was being asked to be the keynote speaker last year for the Duke Media special (DEMAN). Even though it was because their first choice cancelled. Annabeth Gish was their first choice, who was in my class, so going into it I wasn’t even the preeminent member of my own class. But then she got an acting job. So, the call went out, “Get us the Daily Show boy!” That was the biggest honor, 20 years after  graduating, and [seeing] the banner outside of the Bryan Center, where I hung out between classes for four years, and coming back down and seeing a big picture of me outside of the Bryan Center. I took that down, and now it’s hanging in my little cubicle area.
 

Q: What are your outside interests?

Movies, I’m a big movie fan. TV, obviously, my life’s work is TV.

Reading, I always carry something with me. Even outside of work I read politically themed books, I just finished The Invisible Bridge by Rick Perlstein, and I just finished the Matt Bai book (about Gary Hart) All the Truth Is Out. Outside of work I’m doing this for fun. But I also mix it up. I mix between books on politics and media and books about showbiz.

I have a wacky job. I tell people it’s a made-up job at a made-up show. I thought I’d be working on Capitol Hill or something. But the world of late-night basic-cable news-spoof comedy was too big a lure.