This year is looking far too much like last year in that we’re set to lose another political satirist, with Jon Stewart’s recent announcement that he’ll be leaving The Daily Show sometime in the coming year. Late night shows like The Daily Show are how many Americans get their news; as John Oliver pointed out with his Supreme Court dogs (shown below), how information is presented is important, and getting the sometimes apathetic or bored audience to listen and become educated on grim news — and laugh while they do it — is a vital service.
Stephen Colbert left the late night political game only a few months ago, airing his last episode with The Colbert Report in December, making Stewart the second blow to the political commentary machine in only a few short months. “In my heart I know it is time for someone else to have that opportunity,” said Stewart in his announcement, saying The Daily Show was the longest employment he’d ever managed by “16 years and five months.”
“This show doesn’t deserve an even slightly restless host and neither do you,” he said, joking that he’d be able to have dinner with his family “who I have heard from multiple sources, are lovely people.” Of course, he won’t be leaving for at least a few months, and possibly longer, but it’s only a matter of time before late night TV is that much emptier. In honor of his announcement, lets look at a selct few times when he wielded his political scalpel with wit and skill on topics that sorely needed it.
One of his most impassioned and relevant recent dissections was over Ferguson, Mo., the death of Michael Brown, and the various reactions to racial tensions and police force. He demonstrated not only his ability to use opponents’ own words against them, but his mastery of timing — sometimes a loss of words at the right moment is better than a scathing comment — and his ability to rapidly fire off statistics without losing an audience, or muddling the flow of his commentary.
He also knows how to make opponents appear ridiculous with simplistic with graspable humor. “Did you just ‘he who smelt it, dealt it’ racism?” he asks in response to a media commentary on Ferguson which said, “You know who talks about race? Racists.”
And while Stewart is a comedian and brings awareness to important issues by making the news more approachable for many, he also knows how to embrace a degree of seriousness when the time calls for it — as it did with the Eric Garner Grand Jury ruling not to indict the police officer involved in Garner’s death. “If comedy is tragedy plus time, I need more fucking time. But I would really settle for less fucking tragedy to be honest,” said Stewart.
Going back a few years to the 2012 Rumble at Lisner Auditorium, we see Stewart in his element (i.e., arguing with Bill O’Reilly). If you ever wondered what it would be like to see Stewart run for office and participate in public debates, here’s your chance to see.
“My friend Bill O’Reilly … Is completely full of shit,” said Stewart, before launching into a much more nuanced and informed discussion of policy including health care, contraceptives, food stamps and tax reform, and the Middle East. The discussion goes on for just over an hour-and-a-half, but is an interesting perspective on how Stewart discusses politics when punch lines aren’t a requirement.
Like so many great comedians, Stewart spoke at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. In 1997, he picked on half a dozen Senators and Congress members, Al Gore, memorial statue arguments, budget issues, and everything in between.
Finally, there’s Stewart’s first show following September 11, 2001, which was perhaps one of the most real and honest commentaries on tragedy, his job, the show, comedy, satire, and America. It was a mix of tearful, blunt, and hopeful, and clearly a very difficult return. “They said to get back to work and there were no jobs available for a man in the fetal position under his desk crying — which I gladly would have taken — so I come back here,” said Stewart. He went on to talk about the nature of what late night comedy does, calling it a “privilege.”
“Just even the idea that we can sit in the back of the country and make wise cracks — which is really what we do, we sit in the back and throw spitballs. But never forgetting the fact that it is a luxury in this country that allows us to do that … that allows for open satire. And I know that sounds basic and it sounds as though it goes without saying,” said Stewart, “but that’s really what this whole situation is about. It’s the difference between closed and open, the difference between free and burden.”
He moved on to talking about the attack itself, and going forward, saying “I wanted to tell you why I grieve, but why I don’t despair … any fool can blow something up, any fool can destroy. But to see these guys, these firefighters, these police men, and people from all over the country, literally with buckets, rebuilding, that, that is extraordinary and that’s why we already won. It’s light. It’s democracy.” It was undoubtedly an incredibly difficult show to do, but it showcased both the role his team and Stewart play in American commentary and the Novocaine that is humor.
More Politics Cheat Sheet:
- 3 Times Colbert’s Political Humor Did Conservatives ‘Proud’
- The End of an Era: Saying Farewell to ‘The Colbert Report’
- 10 Political Satires for When Elections Become Too Much
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