MU professor Jonathan Sperber appears on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart

Professor Jonathan Sperber promoted his recent novel on philosopher Karl Marx.

When MU Professor of History Jonathan Sperber told his class on April 1 that he would appear on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, the students didn’t believe him.

“They thought it was an April Fool's joke,” Sperber said.

It was no joke. The expert on European history appeared on the April 2 episode of Stewart’s satirical show to promote his novel “Karl Marx: A Nineteenth-Century Life.”

Sperber’s interest in Marx began while he was working on a book about the revolution of 1848 in western Germany, in which Marx played an important role.

“Many of the things I found out about Marx's political activity then did not fit the usual picture of him in most biographies,” Sperber said. “So I decided that some day I would have to write my own.”

Sperber began teaching at MU in 1984 after receiving his doctorate degree from the University of Chicago, according to his profile on the MU Department of History website. Sperber’s teaching experience at MU helped him write about the intellectual figure.

“I have been teaching 19th century European and German history almost every single year since I started working at MU,” Sperber said. “It has given me lots of opportunities to think about the political and intellectual context of Marx's life.”

Sperber said his previous experience with interviews helped prepare him for his appearance on The Daily Show.

“I have already given a number of interviews about the book – for podcasts of National Review Online and the New York Times, as well as broadcasts on Swiss and German radio,” Sperber said. “So I had already thought of what I wanted to say about the book and some good sound bites.”

He also received some additional advice from his literary agent, his book’s publishing company W.W. Norton and Company, Inc. and the MU News Bureau.

Once he arrived at the studio for The Daily Show, Sperber was sent to a special room to prepare and to meet Stewart in person.

“Meeting Jon Stewart was a great experience," Sperber said. "In person, he is every bit as articulate, clever and witty as he is on camera. But he's also very good at putting his guests at ease and getting them to talk.” 

Before he went on stage, Sperber got advice about being on camera from Stewart's assistant, got made up and got the microphone put on. After a sound check, Sperber made his way to the edge of the stage and was sent out at precisely the right moment.

“The whole experience brought to mind the enormous amount of preparation needed before people get to be in front of the camera,” Sperber said. “It may all look spontaneous, but that impression belies all the work done to get everything right.”

During The Daily Show, Stewart and Sperber talked about Marx’s life and writing style.

“He would sit a table, he’d ponder, he’d write something, he’d walk around the table, around and around, then he’d sit down again, write something and then walk around and around,” Sperber said on the show.

Sperber also said Marx was a procrastinator, to which Stewart responded with a joke.

“He is much like the college students who love him,” Stewart said for a large laugh from the audience. “They see that guy and go, ‘That’s what I do. I stay up 48 hours straight, then I collapse and I don’t do anything for two weeks.'"

The professor mentioned another similarity the German philosopher shared with college students.

“He drank like a lot of college students, too,” Sperber said.

Overall, Sperber said his experience on The Daily Show was an enjoyable one.

“I think The Daily Show works so well because it combines a very talented host with an excellent supporting staff,” Sperber said.

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