ptahrrific: Jon and Stephen, "Believe in the me who believes in you" (fake news)
Erin Ptah ([personal profile] ptahrrific) wrote2013-01-22 09:22 pm

Fake News | Jon, "Stephen", others | G | Silent (2/4)

Title: Silent (2/4)
Rating: G
Cast: Jon/"Stephen" (eventually), Sam, Rob Corddry, Ed Helms
Disclaimer: #NotIntendedToBeAFactualStatement. Characters belong to the Report. Names of real people are used in a fictitious context, and all dialogue, actions, and content are products of the author's imagination only.

With the defining themes of the Bush administration becoming clear, the odd-couple symbiosis that drives The Daily Show with Stephen Colbert hits rocky ground. Oh, and the building is haunted. Because evidently our heroes can't catch a break.

(Just now figured out that our!Jon used legit ASL on TDS that one time. Very exciting.)

AO3 mirror | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Embarrassing Noises


unicornprincess76: how's it going?
shamsky62: Other than the piece about Iraq falling apart in my hands for lack of comedy potential? Going great.
unicornprincess76: look at it this way
unicornprincess76: at least the live election show isn't for 8 more months
shamsky62: Oh my god don't remind me, I'm going grey fast enough as it is :-(
unicornprincess76: at least you're going to look dignified when you go grey.
unicornprincess76: hey since when do you write God? I thought you did the whole hyphenating thing
shamsky62: Huh?
shamsky62: Oh, right.
shamsky62: Yeah, the best deaf elementary school in my area was run by Orthodox Jews. Any time my vocabulary's a little weird, that's probably why.
unicornprincess76: oh.
unicornprincess76: I can teach you the real sign for God if you want.
shamsky62: Why Stephen, if I didn't know better, I'd think that was the world's lamest come-on.
unicornprincess76: what the hell Jon
unicornprincess76: that isn't funny
unicornprincess76: sexual harassment is a very serious issue
unicornprincess76: they told me so like 30 times during the court-ordered seminar
shamsky62: Sorry, sorry! Didn't know it was a sore spot. I won't go there again.
unicornprincess76: see that you don't
unicornprincess76: >:-(
unicornprincess76: also don't worry about the Iraq thing
unicornprincess76: we can fill the time with footage from yesterday's press conference
shamsky62: The one that was five minutes long and didn't allow any questions?
unicornprincess76: not this again
unicornprincess76: "ooh look at me, I'm Jon Stewart, I cry like a little girl when the Bush Administration doesn't let reporters walk all over it, waah waah waah"
shamsky62: Yes, how dare I expect the press to be allowed to do its job. What a shocking and offensive suggestion. Entitlement culture at its worst.
unicornprincess76: glad you see it my way
shamsky62: I'm getting back to work now, Stephen. Please only IM if there's breaking news I need to know about.


As the election drew ever closer, tension in the Daily Show studio ramped up.

Not, this time, because of the workload. In the past four years they had built up a thriving staff and earned a serious budget. It was chaos, but manageable chaos.

No, the problem was the increasingly agitated gulf between the head writer and the host.

Morning meetings were always a mixed bag of techniques. New hires had to pick up Jon's basic list of instructions within the first week — story assignment, approval, denial, and tabling, plus stalwarts like "tell me more" and "I understand." A red plush frog got tossed around the room to whoever had the floor, helping Jon track the conversation and heading off problems like two people's mouths moving at once. The whiteboard at his end of the table was always stocked with fresh markers, though if a complex opinion came up he was more likely to scribble it on his notepad and have the person next to him read it. And of course there was Stephen, with one foot (well, one ear) in both worlds, able to translate other people's opinions either way when he wasn't too busy expressing his own.

(It was enough to get things started. Discussion and clarification throughout the day would happen over IM and email, and the final round of editing would involve Jon, Stephen, and one or two individual writers around a much smaller desk, printout in front of them and red pens in hand.)

They were in the middle of deciding how to cover the latest testimony in the Abu Ghraib case, Jon unmoved by any of the angles pitched so far. One of Stephen's favorite writers was in the middle of laying out another one when Jon rapped his knuckles twice on the table and held out his hand for the frog.

(It was a very nice frog. Stephen had won it at the Jersey boardwalk for knocking over enough ducks with a water gun, back when he was still small-time enough to visit places like that and not get mobbed.)

No sooner was it in his hand than he lobbed it at Stephen, and was signing while it was still in the air: Their standard is 'at least we're better than Saddam Hussein'? Seriously? That whole conference was full of lines, Stephen. We can stand them up like dominoes and get our whole string of punchlines from knocking them over.

Because it gave him more opportunities to hear the sound of his own voice, Stephen was usually willing to hold mid-meeting conversations with Jon like a sitcom character on the phone. "You think we should get our punchlines by criticizing all of the Army's very valid reasons for definitely not torture that was only perpetrated by a few bad apples anyway?" he said/signed, the frog dropped onto the desk in front of him. "Jon, if I didn't know better, I would think you didn't support our troops."

Don't you go throwing buzzwords at me, Stephen. Something went wrong here. Powerful people dropped the ball and are trying to talk their way out of it. That's our cue to bring the satire.

"Buzzwords? It's not a buzzword, it's a very marketable slogan! As attested to by the five yellow ribbons on my bumper so far. And no, we don't have to satirize everything the people in charge 'get wrong.' Especially not Rumsfeld." Stephen shuddered. "Did you see how intimidating he was with those people who complained about the military's culture of intimidation?"

Always the excuses! Rumsfeld's intimidating. Cheney might carve out your heart in your sleep and replace it with a creeping eldritch horror. Having issues with Bush at all is un-American....

"They are not excuses, they're perfectly legitimate reasons! And what issues could you have with President Bush? We have a decisive, authoritative, fantastic Commander in Chief. This man stands for things. And on things. And in front of things. Say what you want about the Mission Accomplished photo op, but you can't deny it was very some very impressive standing."

So we're supposed to smile and nod at everything the administration does, up to including degrading treatment of prisoners in American custody, because our president — is good at standing?

"You want to do this, Jon? You want to get into this?" demanded Stephen, getting up out of his chair. "Because you are welcome to join me on the air for this one. Haven't gotten to do nearly enough shouting at correspondents since Steve ran off to Hollywood. We can get a whole back-and-forth going, you be the liberal, I'll be the conservative, have graphics mock up a logo in the Crossfire font—"

"No!" shouted Jon, slamming his hand against the table.

Everyone froze — even Stephen, hands still in the air, mouth open — as Jon too rose to his feet.

We are not modeling anything on Crossfire. His face was sharp, eyes blazing. Everything that show embodies — the artificial left-right binary, the fake 'balance' of equal time for people whose views are not equally rational, the need to drum up conflict and ratings at the expense of facts and any interest in informing the public — it's toxic, it's hurting America, and we are not touching it.

"That isn't your call, Jon." Stephen's signs were as fluid as ever, but his voice had gone dangerously low, leaving the writers and correspondents even more terrified. "You aren't the one with your name in the title."

Let me rephrase, said Jon. Instead of pointing to himself for the next pronoun, he thumped his fist against his chest. I am not touching it. You make whatever call you want.

A long silence. In all senses of the word.

"Well! I think we have enough material to start with," exclaimed Stephen, clapping his hands together and offering everyone but Jon a horrifying phony grin. "You all, uh, go ahead and divide up and do your research thingies, okay? I will be in my office, doing...something extremely important! Nobody bother me!"

With that, and with one last grey-faced look at Jon, he fled the writers' room.

Everybody was trying their best to look somewhere other than at Jon or the chair Stephen had vacated. Jon took a steadying breath, then leaned down and knocked twice on the table. Once he had their reluctant attention, he turned to the whiteboard and spelled out their instructions, turning out the capitals in short, choppy strokes:


He underlined it all in a slash of green, and signed, You understand? A smattering of nods answered. Jon didn't look closely enough to make sure everyone had followed, just dropped the marker back in its groove, circled the table, and was out the door too.

Nobody moved to scatter into their assigned pairs just yet. No one else even said a word until Ed Helms, in a small voice, spoke for all: "I hate it when Mommy and Daddy fight."

Rob Corddry put an arm around him. "I know, buddy. I know."


It took a good half hour for Stephen to work through all his emotions and pull himself together.

Several pieces of furniture in his office had to be kicked in the process. There may have been a small amount of sobbing into a pillow. He composed the first paragraph of an angry letter in all caps, stared at it for a minute, deleted it all, then slumped all the way down to the floor for a good five minutes of feeling sorry for himself.

At last he crawled back up, IMed Jon ("meet me in my office in 5min"), and immediately signed off before Jon could reply.

Stephen was on the left side of the couch when Jon showed up, laptop on his knees. Jon didn't look ready to throttle him any more, so Stephen patted the cushion to invite him over.

(It was a convenience thing, the side Jon always took; it kept the side with Stephen's working ear available for people who might need to talk at it. Entirely coincidence that it put Jon perpetually at his right hand.)

Once Jon was in place, the computer was easy to slide across into his lap, document open:

okay Jon I have given this a lot of thought

and have concluded, in a way that does not at all compromise my absolute dictatorial authority over this here operation, that:

WHEREAS our ratings have been perfectly fine with me listening politely to correspondents, and reserving my shouting for the camera; and

WHEREAS everyone here is used to my temper and probably only pretending to take it seriously, yours is actually scary; and

WHEREAS bow ties are stupid anyway,

we on The Daily Show will not attempt to mimic Crossfire, Hannity & Colmes, etc. in any way, shape, or form. also you will no longer automatically be vetoed on writing jokes that I feel show an un-American level of critical thought, as long as I am not the one who has to deliver them.

please don't leave I'm sorry I don't know how to do this without you

Jon took it all in with his most serious demeanor, then pulled a flash drive out of his pocket. He stuck it in one of the laptop's ports, opened one of the files from what looked like a list of notes on guests and rejected script ideas, and passed the whole thing back to Stephen.


I'm really sorry about how all that went down. I knew I was picking a fight with you there, and at the very least should have saved it for a private conversation later. And I shouldn't have threatened to quit. That's not a fair bomb to drop, especially when I haven't even tried to talk things out like a reasonable person.

I don't want to quit.

There's one thing I do want, and that's a real interpreter. Or at least a personal assistant with interpretation in their job description. You should have grown out of the role years ago; it's only worked as well as it has because we're so used to being joined at the hip. And obviously we can't count on that any more...that's not a dig, by the way! Friends fight sometimes. It's normal. I just need someone who's paid not to walk out and leave me at a disadvantage when it happens.

Okay, there are two things I want. The other is to keep being your friend. Please?

Great, now Stephen was tearing up again. Biting his lip, he added a couple of hard returns and tapped out a reply.

okay. IM whoever writes job postings for us and tell them what you want in the job posting. then tell whoever sets up interviews for us to set up some interviews.

Jon read it, smiled, then asked, Are you ever going to learn what anybody on your staff does?

Stephen arched his eyebrows. I believe the word you're looking for is 'thank you'.

(The sign: the hand motion of blowing someone a kiss, aimed at the party being thanked. Usually paired with a smile. Very rarely paired with the full Colbert glower.)

Thank you, replied Jon, in between trying not to crack up.


"Welcome to The Daily Show — special live hour-long election-night edition! I'm Stephen Colbert, and tonight we will be bringing you the most up-to-the-minute voting results, just as soon as we can get them from CNN's website.

"We have an enormous effort out there tonight, our entire team of correspondents working — Samantha Bee embedded with the Kerry campaign, Ed Helms will be checking in from Bush headquarters, Rob Corddry is here in the studio supervising our fancy light-up map, and we'll have William Weld and Al Sharpton joining us later. The real Al Sharpton, this time."

Appreciative laughter; much of the audience remembered the day Sharpton had canceled an interview at the last minute. Stephen himself had ended up playing both roles, scrambling back and forth between the guest's spot on the couch and the host's chair at the desk. He'd been out of breath by the end of it, but elated to have discovered a way to show his audience a conversation without the critical downside of having to share their attention with another person. The tech people would have to find a more efficient way to do it one of these days.

"Let's start right here in the studio," he said now, "with our Senior Election Analyst, Jon Stewart!"

He waved down the desk, which had been extended for the occasion in a long arc down the side of the stage, giving Jon plenty of room for his laptop, an open binder, and a coffee mug full of pens. Jon was scrolling intently through something on the screen, and didn't look up.

"O-kay," said Stephen, trying to sound peppy. "Obviously since tonight is going to move so fast, and does not have a pre-determined schedule, Jon does not know exactly when I am going to need him. Give me just a second while I get his attention...."

He fished around behind the desk, and came up with a flag-painted 1:43-scale Formula Palmer Audi and matching remote control. A murmur ran through the crowd as he set the car on the desk, fiddled with the dials for a moment...and sent it whizzing across the lucite, launching right off the edge to strike Jon in the shoulder.

Jon's features snapped through shock-fear-annoyance as he flinched, yelped (though he wasn't mic'ed, so only Stephen could tell), and grabbed the offended arm while ducking to avoid any future missiles. Stephen! he signed an instant later, glaring. Couldn't you have gotten a light to flash at me or something?

"Lights don't have the same dramatic cachet, Jon," said/signed Stephen imperiously. "Now that you're with us — you've been following this whole long and exhausting campaign in more detail than any of us. How about some thoughts on how this night is going to go?"

Oh, no you don't, replied Jon, shaking his head and flashing that expression with the wide eyes and puffed-out cheeks that said he was definitely not going there, and didn't think much of your chances if you went there, either. No predictions. Not saying a word until every vote is in, or at least every vote from Florida. I still have a crick in my neck from sleeping on it funny during the all-nighter we pulled the last time around.

"Uh-huh," said Stephen. "Is that why you brought your own pillow this time?"

Jon nodded, picking it up from behind his end of the desk so the audience could see. "Ah, an ergonomic pillow, fancy," narrated Stephen. "And — you have more? I see, your slippers...and a sleep mask, very classy, I like the leopard print...and a stuffed bulldog?" Jon cuddled the toy with one arm and spelled with the other. "Mister Jowly! Good name."

As Jon settled the plushie on his lap, Stephen added, "Well, it's a good thing you're prepared to be here for the long haul if necessary, because this is probably the most important election of our lifetime. Wouldn't you agree?"

No, that's just something we say every election because it makes our ratings higher, said Jon. Wait, are my subtitles still on?



Halfway through rehearsal (most of the show that night was covering reactions the death of the Pope), everyone except Jon had a sudden start. Stephen at the desk, the camera guys at their posts, the collection of writers and production assistants in the seats...even Ed, and he was checking in from Rome at the time.

Jon tapped his assistant, who was looking wildly around the room. What did you hear, Kallie?

I don't know, she replied, still skittish. But if I had to guess, I would say...the screams of a thousand tortured souls crying out in agony?

Probably just the wind, said Jon. He understood that they could be a lot alike.

It's at least the third time it's happened this month, Kallie pointed out, not looking convinced. I wouldn't be surprised if Stephen did something to bring down an ancient curse on us.

Oh, come on. He's great at annoying living people, sure, but that doesn't mean he's moved on to earning grudges from the dead.

So saying, he turned back to see if the action on-set had resumed...and found a ghastly translucent clip of the Crypt Keeper grinning at him.

The noise Jon made in his panicked flail, as Stephen later informed him, sounded exactly like a pig objecting to being wrestled into a Betsy Ross costume. Jon decided he did not need to know how Stephen knew that.


Three weeks and a parade of exorcists later, they found someone who claimed to supernatural senses and didn't either shrug and say they were in the spiritual clear, or end up running sobbing from the building.

"This is not a curse," she said after circling through several of the halls, emerging at last from the back of the set. "And I sense no malevolent spirit...not a human one, at any rate. Whatever it may be, it has an objection to your presence here."

"Sounds pretty malevolent to me!" huffed Stephen.

"Not malevolent. Opinionated," corrected the exorcist. "Surely you of all people would know the difference."

"Touché," muttered Stephen. "All right, so why doesn't it want me here? Is it upset about the smell of my cologne? Should I part my hair on the other side?"

"It may not be you specifically." She walked along the front of the desk, nails clicking on the lucite. "Another member of your staff...the position of this furniture blocking a vital energy flow...the products of one of your sponsors."

"Disembodied forces from beyond the veil might want to lodge a complaint about Prescott Pharmaceuticals?"

"If only it were that precise! It may simply mean your operation..."

"The two-time Emmy-winning Daily Show with Stephen Colbert."

"...has overstayed its welcome here. All I can say for certain is that the complaint would not follow you to another location, nor would it harass a new set of tenants in this building."

"So, in other words," said Stephen, "disembodied forces have begun reaching out to us from beyond the make Comedy Central answer our long-standing request for a bigger studio."


The last Friday before the two-week break was moving day. In boxes and cartons, on trolleys and in bags, the accumulated detritus of seven-plus years of nightly television show production flowed out of their familiar building like sand from the top of an hourglass.

Their new building was only a couple of blocks away. But the studio space was bigger (We'll have a great space for musical performances now, Jon! It's very cool, honest), the wiring and plumbing were more modern (fluorescent bulbs and low-flow toilets!), and they were using the occasion as an excuse to commission a whole new set.

Long gone were the days of browns and purples. And this one was going to be even bluer, shinier, and more high-res than the last.

In his office for the last time, Jon slung one final backpackful of items over his shoulder and nodded to Kallie, who directed the movers to pick up the filing cabinet. He watched it get wheeled out the door, then signed, That's all I need for the day. You can clock out a few minutes early, okay?

Sure thing, boss. Text me if you need anything.

He waved her away, and, once she was gone, swung the other direction to make his way out through the set.

Stephen was already there, sitting in his usual spot, elbows on the desk and chin in his hands. Jon clapped to get his attention; he sat up and spun, sheepish. Jon! Hi there. I was just leaving.

No rush, Jon assured him. Going to miss this old desk, huh?

That got a grin out of Stephen. Not as much as I'm going to love the new one. Did I tell you we're going to get it shaped like a giant C?

Only about twenty times, said Jon with a laugh.

Oh. Right. Well, it's about time for me to head out. You coming?

Go ahead. I'll catch you up.

Jon thought about taking the seat he'd left, but settled on meandering down the set to where Camera 1 would have stood. No TV magic to help the view now. The desk and the backdrop looked like what they were: little, cheap, thrown together on a budget in a small space and totally lackluster without proper lighting. But they had, in one form or another, been home for a long time.

And then came another round of eerie grey silhouettes misting through the air.

Before he could sign all right, all right, I'm going, the images resolved into something recognizable. Not the Crypt Keeper this time, or the exploding-head scene from Scanners, or any of the other terrors the building had thrown at them when screeches and wails didn't take. No, all it showed was a slightly different set — backdrop like a sunburst, centered around that C-shaped desk Stephen kept talking about, though it had a screen embedded in the front playing footage of a bald eagle soaring. It was too blurry and indistinct around the edges for Jon to read the words mounted overhead or scrolling past on LEDs near the floor, but the center was clear enough to show Stephen himself sitting in the host's spot.

The ghost Stephen looked despondent as he said something to, to the insubstantial camera. It took Jon a moment to realize he needed to lip-read. He caught "I guess I have no choice but to admit—" before the ghost caught its nonexistent breath and listened.

Jon wondered vaguely if the scene actually had ghost sound.

Then the translucent grey Stephen mouthed "Jon!" — and a translucent grey Jon strode into view. Beaming with relief, Stephen stood to greet him, to let this Jon clasp his hand and clap him on the shoulder, radiating benevolent confidence.

They sank back into their seats. The ghost Jon soaked in applause from whatever other-dimensional audience he was playing to, while the ghost Stephen introduced him...

...and then they began to talk.

The scene faded out while they were still deep in conversation, not a twitch of ASL in sight, leaving the real Jon gaping at a dark and empty set.

His inner hypochondriac insisted that it had all been a hallucination, a disturbingly long and involved one, and he should check himself into the nearest hospital ASAP. For once, Jon ignored it. Whatever had just happened, it had been given to him from outside, and there was something profound and real at its base.

We still would have been friends.

Jon signed Thank you into the air, directing it at the set for lack of anything more substantial to address. Then, in case their inhuman supernatural presence was more of an auditory type, he said it out loud. "T'ank yoh."

A cold gust of wind came out of nowhere, blowing him toward the door.

Well. Jon could take a hint. He waved goodbye anyway as he carried the last grain of sand out of the hourglass.


The new studio wasn't haunted by anything, although it did have several Giant Heads that would pop out at unpredictable moments.

Jon got to be friends with the Giant Head of Brian Williams. Obviously it couldn't sign, but it was really easy for him to lip-read.

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