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Rob Riggle’s off the hook in China

Rob Riggle’s off the hook in China

Posted: Thursday, August 14, 2008 10:36 am

By DAVID BAUDER AP Television Writer NEW YORK (AP) — Foreign correspondency on the fake news of “The Daily Show” usually amounts to someone standing in front of a video screen on the New York set, a few steps away from Jon Stewart’s desk. But to coincide with the Olympics, the show’s Rob Riggle went to China. Really. His skewed travelogue unfolded this week on the Comedy Central hit. “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,” said Riggle, a former U.S. Marine who served in Afghanistan and is still on reserve. 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, they got the go-ahead less than 24 hours before their plane was due to leave on July 29. “There were days when we got promising news and days when we got not-so-encouraging news,” said Glenn Clements, field producer and Riggles’ traveling partner. “But we decided to stick it out until the end, and it paid off.” Trying to explain what “The Daily Show” did would have been difficult. They essentially delivered a list of places where they planned to do filming. 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 said. Riggle and his crew were followed almost everywhere by Chinese police, although only once was a hand placed over a camera lens cap and they were told to go away. It was a moment the comedy writers probably couldn’t have made up: They were filming the outside of a 7-11 convenience 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. They would literally turn and run away, Riggle said. 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,” he said. “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 had the somewhat unexpected experience of being 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. His first segment, on Monday, was a mock “up close and personal” look at Riggle and his journey to the Olympics. They also had 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 will also 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 said. The four segments, prepared over the weekend between bouts of jet lag, is called “Rob Riggle: Chasing the Dragon.” “Jon always has a very good sense of what’s in good taste and bad,” he said, “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.” On the Net: http://www.comedycentral.com/ Editor’s note — David Bauder can be reached at dbauder@ap.org. Published in The Messenger 8.13.08

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