In 2009, I was given an incredible opportunity. It was one that most liberal arts college students would have fawned over.
I was an intern at The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
And a pretty crappy intern at that.
Before I found out I got the job, I would watch the show every night. I’d attended a Daily Show taping twice already. One of those times, I drove five hours from Baltimore, my hometown, to New York to go to the show. My car, a 1995 Ford Escort, shook above 70 miles an hour and I got a flat tire on the side of the New Jersey turnpike on the way up. Still, I made it. I stood in line for hours to get into the taping. I was able to ask Jon a question from the audience.
I was majoring in journalism at SUNY Purchase, looking into improv classes, and going to standup shows in the city. I wanted to work in comedy and television in some capacity, and the Daily Show would be perfect. When I found out about the internship and got the interview, I was told that 1,000 people had applied, 100 people would be interviewed, and 10 would be hired.
And then, I got the call: I was one of the 10.
The fall of my senior year, the next semester, I would be going to The Daily Show twice a week to work at Comedy Central, in New York City, with the Jon Stewart.
My college was 45 minutes north of New York City. The internship started at 9 a.m. every Monday and Tuesday, and my school shuttle to the Metro North train didn’t start running early enough to get me to my internship on time. So I asked two of my friends living in the city if every Sunday and Monday I could crash at their places. They didn’t have extra rooms, but they graciously welcomed me into their homes.
All my life, I’ve had a delayed sleep disorder, where I go to bed super late and wake up late as well. My college sleep schedule, at that point, was 4 a.m. to 12 p.m.
When I got to my friend Amber’s Upper East Side apartment that first Sunday night before the internship started, I tried to go to bed by midnight on her futon, but I couldn’t sleep. For hours, I tossed back and forth, watching the clock, getting more and more nervous, and feeling lonely. I finally got to bed around 3.
Four hours later, my alarm went off. I felt like my head was in a fog. I was dizzy. But I was excited. I stopped into Starbucks, got a big coffee and a power bagel, and headed to work.
I wore a Hillary Clinton-esque pantsuit to ensure that I was going to be alert and ready. Jon introduced himself to us and he seemed so nice. The other interns, many of whom went to Ivy League schools, were a little intimidating, but also friendly. I was ready.
I learned that I would be schlepping gift bags from one location to another, delivering tapes, picking up groceries, cutting up bagels, and logging, or transcribing, tapes. It wasn’t exactly the idea I had in my head of what this internship would be. I’d interned in television before, doing similar errands, and I didn’t like it. That made me a little anxious already.
My first grocery run, on my first day, I panicked when Gristedes didn’t have a certain type of milk I was supposed to buy. I felt nervous carrying around hundreds of dollars in my pocket for the groceries; what if I lost the receipt? When I picked the grocery bags up, they were incredibly heavy. I didn’t have a cart I could use to take them to the studio. My arms hurt by the time I got back.
During that second week on the show, my long-term boyfriend broke up with me. I wasn’t expecting it at all. I cried every night for weeks. Every time it was around 2 a.m., and I was alone in my dorm room, and everyone else was asleep, I’d lay in my bed, wailing.
I tried to push through it and stay focused at The Daily Show. I was determined to make it work.
When there was downtime, I sat logging tapes of politicians’ speeches and old CSPAN footage. I’d help the accounting department file papers. I’d greet the writers with their bagels and ask to sit in on meetings so I could learn from them. But I also mostly kept to myself.
I didn’t feel comfortable among the Ivy Leaguers. Even if they were nice, I had a complex. I thought they were better than me. I was less than them because I was going to a state school, not Columbia and Yale. It didn’t help that many of the writers went to these schools, too. I felt like I didn’t have a chance.
The other interns also lived in the city. They’d arrive to work chipper, eager, always with a smile on their faces. I’d arrive tired, nauseous, broken down.
Every once in a while, I’d see Samantha Bee or John Oliver or I’d catch a glimpse of Jon and think, “Yes, this is worth it.” Or I would try to forget the misery I was in by eating another bagel with tons and tons of cream cheese.
Because of my bad sleep habits, I had a serious case of the Sunday night blues every week. I’d sit on the Metro North train, which was always deserted at the time, trying to read a book, but I’d usually end up crying instead. I’d call my mom to feel a little better, but hearing her voice only made me cry even more. I needed her comfort. I needed someone to let me know it’d be OK.
About halfway through the internship, everything caught up to me. I got bronchitis. I had to call out sick.
By December, I was a disaster. Whenever I saw my ex on campus, which was often, I felt upset all over again. I got bronchitis a second time and had to call out sick again. I felt like less than nothing at my internship. I walked around in a daze.
Sure enough, when the internship was over, I found out I got a C+ grade from my supervisors there. For years after, I had a “screw that” attitude towards the whole experience. I had nightmares over it. I couldn’t get it out of my mind just how awful that period in my life was. I had to blame something, so I blamed The Daily Show. I stopped watching it — and gave up my dreams of working in TV.
It was only after a string of more bad job experiences, which ultimately led to me choosing to freelance, that I realized the problem was not The Daily Show.
It was my anxiety that got in the way of my being successful. I was too shy to ask for more work, to crack a joke, to be myself. I threw myself into an incredibly tough situation at one of the most competitive work environments there was. I wasn’t ready mentally. And I didn’t have the drive that it takes to be great in television. I didn’t want to have to carry groceries to get ahead.
Today, after nine years of therapy, training myself to go to bed at a reasonable hour, finding jobs that suit my personality, and gaining the tools to deal with my anxiety, I’m finally able to be myself in the workplace, to thrive at my job, and not let my head get in the way.
And I can finally look back at my Daily Show experience with some peace of mind. It wasn’t them. It was me. As it turns out, I’m fixable. And that’s given me more than just a moment of zen.