Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Exit Stage Left: Jon Stewart and the end of an era

Joshua Tree, CA—The curtain is about to fall, and Jon Stewart, comedian, activist, crazy man, wisecrack, political analyst, is about to exit stage left.
If an evening news anchor or some similarly well respected person were to go on an expletive laden tirade, he would not last at the anchor chair for more than about ten seconds before his or her feed were pulled, and it would not be long after that before a group of executives, lawyers, and sponsors were working desperately to be certain that that anchor’s contract was pulled.
Yet Jon Stewart, host of “The Daily Show” has been on an expletive laden tirade for more than sixteen years, ever since he took the chair of Comedy Central’s flagship show, on January 11th, 1999, and everybody loves him. (Well, not everybody. Many conservatives and liberals alike think Stewart has been unfair to them in his long witch hunt for those he disagrees with.) The comedian’s show is a spoof the evening news broadcasts, in which he shows clips from the day’s real news broadcasts, and then mercilessly and hilariously mocks them.
Perhaps not since Thomas Nash, the man who attacked politicians relentlessly, and became so popular while doing it, that his caricatures, which he invented, of the Republicans as elephants and Democrats as donkeys, became world famous, has there been a comedian who was so close to the heart of American politics, and indeed, such a powerful voice in our culture, as Jon Stewart.
Stewart has almost singlehandedly made his comedy show into something more than one you turn on for a few laughs. He has made his pronouncements, always funny, almost always of substance, something to be heeded, so much so that earlier this year when The New York Times, America’s newspaper of record, did a story on Jr. Senator from Florida Marco Rubio, Jon Stewart slammed the Times coverage as ridiculous, and in the mainstream understanding, Stewart beat America’s most revered and awarded newspaper with his own narrative. Rubio literally used the YouTube clip of Stewart slamming the charges as his defense.
Stewart has been a uniquely gifted comedian in that during his time he saw the rise of the internet and video streaming services, such as YouTube, which allow his clips to be shown the next the day, and be shared by his fans with their friends, and their friends, and so on.
While Stewart often leaves his audience laughing so much they almost want him to stop just so they can breathe, he has, at times, taken on a much more serious note, such as after 9/11, when he spoke of how the view from his window in New York City, before the tragic terrorist attack, had been that of the World Trade Center, but with those towers gone, now his view was of the Statue of Liberty. Perhaps even more famously, in the wake of another, much more recent tragedy, that of the shooting of nine black church goers in South Carolina, Stewart made a powerful statement but telling no jokes for his entire show, saying “I have nothing but sadness."
Stewart is quite obviously a left of center liberal, even taking the stage in 2012, just before the election, to debate with FOX News’ controversial yet likeable Bill O’Reilly, about the direction America should take. However, while Stewart has made constant attacks against FOX News, calling them “the special network” and saying he has been chasing them his entire life “but we just can’t kill you,” Stewart has attacked members of both the left and right. From doing half a show on Glenn Beck, the conspiracy theorist, saying that by Beck’s logic Christianity would lead us directly to Sharia Law, to spending time mauling CNN for its 50 year anniversary of the Selma march as well as the Baltimore Riots earlier this year, Stewart has been relentless in his pursuit of anyone he thinks is either treating someone else unfairly, or just being plain dumb, from his complaints about the media coverage of Ron Paul in 2011, to a smashing attack of Former Vice President Dick Cheney.
Often Stewart has defended President Obama, while attacking members of his administration, and when he did make fun of the president Stewart generally did it because he thought the president was acting as if Americans responded to rational arguments. However, when Rand Paul took on the President for his policies on drones, Stewart backed him against Mr. Obama, saying Rand deserved a fair hearing.
Stewart also defended Republicans during the Loretta Lynch hearings for Attorney General, saying that Durbin was being ridiculous in trying to point to Republicans as racist, for not voting for the highly liberal, black lawyer.
More recently, Stewart has been a major part of the effort to destroy Donald Trump by turning him into an absolute laughing stock; saying that while American politics should in reality be conducted with great seriousness, Trump “is so much fun!” And that Trump is like desert after a hard day’s work in real politics, in the real world. Stewart, who has announced that his final day in the anchor chair will be on sixth of this month, (ironically also the first time that all the Republican Candidates for president, whom, along with Hillary Clinton, Stewart has been mocking for months now, will be together for a debate) publicly thanked the billionaire Trump “for making my last six weeks, my best six weeks.”
Trevor Noah, the new man who will take the desk
at the end of this week.

Stewart is turning over the show to Trevor Noah, a South African, who, some say, was the only one brave enough to fill the massive shoes Stewart is stepping out of now. Many have said that Noah is a bad choice, with controversy surrounding remarks some see as sexist, anti-Jew, and anti-American. But even without the remarks, I have serious doubts that Noah wield anywhere near the effect of Jon Stewart. Stewart could make fun of us because he is one of us, an American talking to other Americans. Noah is an outsider who openly makes fun of us, which will cause many to resent him. In the end, however, Noah will mainly be weaker because he isn’t Jon Stewart, and trying to top Stewart would be a bit like coming onto a stage after Martin Luther King Jr. had given a speech, and trying to give a better one, or coming to the desk after Shakespeare had written a play, and trying to write a better one. I’m not saying it can’t be done, just that it will be slightly more difficult than flying.

Love him, hate him, don’t care about him, Jon Stewart has had an effect on American politics that few outside of elected office have ever achieved in the modern era. But all things must end, and the man who spanned sixteen of the most tumultuous years in American history is on his way to the exit.
As he goes, many conservatives are probably sighing in relief, liberals are looking on in disappointment, and Trevor Noah is breathing a very nervous, very uncertain breath of apprehension.
Throughout the long train of comedians, from the fools in the king’s palace in the Middle Ages to the clowns of vaudeville that helped us get through the great depression, laughing, and those who make us do it, have been an integral part of human history. Stewart has simply been another link in the long chain from Adam to us.
The future of comedy is always uncertain. But its history has been made better because Jon Stewart has been with us.

Andrew C. Abbott


  1. I'll remember Stewart for his show with Ron Paul, Jon Huntsman, and the Ames Iowa Quiznos.

  2. I'll remember Stewart for his show with Ron Paul, Jon Huntsman, and the Ames Iowa Quiznos.

    1. That was actually the very first time I watched him. What a classic!