When I finally got an executive producer for The Daily Show on the phone, one of my first questions had little to do with the show's four-day stand in Tampa during the RNC or even what it was like to work with the sharpest media critic in America, host Jon Stewart.
I wanted to know: Why, Rory Albanese, did your last Daily Show episode call Tampa "horrible"?
"Any time you're going to a tropical mosquito zone in the middle of August with a hurricane coming, it's tough to not use the word 'horrible,' " said Albanese, laughing. "It's like when you go to a college to do stand-up and you make fun of the school mascot … people love it."
Okay, maybe he has to work on the whole diplomacy thing. But Albanese, 35, has a multitude of Emmy awards on his mantel as a writer and executive producer of The Daily Show.
Now The Daily Show is ready to take on Tampa with four shows dubbed "RNC 2012: The Road to Jeb Bush 2016."
Albanese won't reveal the guests, although Sen. Marco Rubio is set for Tuesday. Correspondent Aasif Mandvi, who spent his high school and college years in Tampa (Chamberlain, the University of South Florida), will present an insider's look, including the infamous Mons Venus strip club.
Mandvi, who sat for an interview at the Straz Center on Sunday, recalled polling his friends who still live in Tampa for ideas about spoofing the state.
"They couldn't wait to tell me all the places to go," he said. "There are a lot of spots … that Tampanians are going to be proud that we (visited). I don't think the mayor of Tampa is going to be happy … (but) for my friends, it was cathartic," Mandvi said.
The show's correspondents — Mandvi, John Oliver, Al Madrigal and Jessica Williams — rolled into the Straz on Sunday afternoon.
Mandvi said their work mostly involves finding choice situations and pushing the situation to the limit, as he did last year when asking Florida Gov. Rick Scott to pee in a cup for a piece satirizing drug testing for public employees.
"Not one person laughed. … I thought, 'The press hates me!' " he said, recalling the moment. "And the minute we walked out of the room every press outlet said, 'That was so cool!' Secretly, they were all (thinking) 'This is awesome,' but none of them had the b- - - - to laugh."
Albanese said part of Mandvi's homecoming will be poking fun at the fact that their Middle East correspondent is from Florida.
"That doesn't exactly give you the street cred to be covering stuff from Iraq," the producer said, laughing. "Which he never really is, because he's just standing in our studios."
The show delayed its usual Monday through Thursday broadcast schedule, instead airing shows Tuesday through Friday from Tampa to give the show some time to generate material. But with today's events canceled, what will The Daily Show satirize?
"This election doesn't feel as energized," said Mandvi, who also ran around the conventions in 2008 for the show during the Barack Obama/John McCain race.
"It was anybody's game back then. … This election feels a bit — it just doesn't feel as exciting," he noted. "You know, from the perspective of a fake journalist."
Eric Deggans can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8521. See the Feed blog at tampabay.com/blogs/media.