October 28, 2021

Does Jon Stewart Nonetheless Wish to Be Humorous?

6 min read


In the six years since he left The Day by day Present, Jon Stewart has made more appearances than anybody may have predicted on the community he as soon as blamed for all of America’s ills, Fox Information. As an advocate for causes just like the well being advantages of 9/11 first responders and veterans uncovered to burn pits, he’s always on-message, remarkably disciplined, and virtually by no means humorous.

So, as he equipped for what he has insisted is not a “comeback” on Apple TV+, the large query is which Stewart viewers could be getting. The hilariously scathing comic who spent a decade and a half “eviscerating” his political adversaries with jokes? Or the clever elder statesman who would somewhat discover frequent floor with ideological opponents for the larger good?

The titles of the primary two episodes of his new present—“Warfare” and “Freedom”—may be the primary clue.

Instantly, viewers are thrust right into a lethal severe writers’ room dialog about what America owes its service women and men who’re sick on account of international conflicts. We’re behind the scenes as Stewart makes his pitch to the notably numerous room, most of whom have “by no means labored on a comedy present,” as showrunner and former CBS Night Information producer Brinda Adhikari defined not too long ago.

After an opening-credits sequence that cheekily runs by way of some alternate titles—“The Cash Seize with Jon Stewart” stands out—the precise title is unveiled: The Downside With Jon Stewart. The double-meaning is little question intentional and divulges a knowingness on his half concerning the problem of constructing on a legacy that has bred equally formidable “comedy” reveals like John Oliver’s Final Week Tonight, Samantha Bee’s Full Frontal, and Hasan Minhaj’s Patriot Act.

There he’s, sitting behind a desk as soon as once more. A uniform of grey stubble and bomber jacket-over-T-shirt have changed the clean-shaven, suited news-anchor look. When his first “joke” receives a clumsy silence from a small, COVID-friendly viewers, Stewart smiles and cracks, “I assume that solutions whether or not the present might be humorous or not.”

After a number of extra self-deprecating digs at his grizzled look, Stewart “eases in” together with his first “bipartisan and non-controversial” subject: veterans. As he pioneered on his Day by day Present, Stewart makes use of tight information clip montages to make his level about how America claims to “assist the troops” with out truly delivering on that promise.

“Sure, we love our vets,” he says. “However you recognize the outdated saying: In the event you love somebody, allow them to go… fuck themselves.” That punchline is met with what can solely be described as a tragic chuckle.

Stewart’s single-topic format owes greater than slightly to the bespectacled Brit who was as soon as seen as his pure successor on The Day by day Present earlier than Trevor Noah took the reins. However whereas Oliver makes use of fast-paced fury on his weekly HBO present to make seemingly unfunny points like jail reform or the opioid disaster come alive, Stewart’s extra deliberate and honest model is a a lot greater ask for viewers. It’s no shock that the premiere doesn’t get any funnier when Stewart spends his second section chatting with a bunch of veterans who’ve suffered the implications of inhaling burn pit fumes.

Issues noticeably choose up when Stewart sits down with President Biden’s Secretary of Veteran Affairs Denis McDonough, evoking a few of his hardest and most substantive interviews from the Day by day Present days. At one level, he goads McDonough into admitting, “I don’t give a shit what you suppose,” earlier than including, “I care what the veterans suppose.” The truth that it’s not punctuated by outbursts of righteous viewers applause makes the dialog each much less viscerally thrilling however doubtlessly extra consequential. Let’s hope he will get extra probabilities to face off with greater political villains.

The “outdated” Stewart of The Day by day Present comes by way of a bit extra within the collection’ second episode when he takes on the “freedom isn’t free” crowd, who refuse to put on masks or get vaccinated whereas on the similar time evaluating affordable COVID restrictions to the Holocaust.

This results in a genuinely humorous section referred to as “What’s! Extra! Hitler!” through which the host argues that the virus itself is rather more just like the Nazi dictator than the strategies to cease it are. “Hitler had large territorial ambition. COVID is fucking in every single place!” Stewart jokes. “Masks and vaccines have barely made it to Florida. Level, COVID.”

From there, comedy takes a backseat as soon as once more for a roundtable dialogue with activists and former political prisoners, together with the “Egyptian Jon Stewart,” Bassem Youssef. At instances, all of it begins to really feel extra like one thing you would possibly see at The New Yorker Pageant as opposed to what’s ostensibly a political comedy present.

When his first “joke” receives a clumsy silence from a small, COVID-friendly viewers, Stewart smiles and cracks, “I assume that solutions whether or not the present might be humorous or not.”

When the brand new collection’ identify was revealed earlier this 12 months, Day by day Present alum Wyatt Cenac pointedly called out Stewart for appropriating each the title and idea of his canceled HBO present Downside Areas. However the irony is that each reveals wrestle in their very own methods to search out the stability between deadly-serious points and the necessity to ship laughs. Seems it’s not as straightforward as John Oliver and his 15 Emmys make it look.

The premiere episode ends with yet one more writers’ room outtake through which Stewart frets that it’s “gonna be a fucking nightmare” when he subsequent reveals up on the Comedy Cellar desk in New York as a result of his comic associates will make enjoyable of him by saying, “Oh look, Mom Teresa simply got here in.” It’s a reputable concern.

What made Stewart such a sensation on The Day by day Present was his distinctive means to mine exhausting laughs out of more and more darkish information cycles. Now that his many disciples are doing their very own variations of that trick throughout community, cable and streaming TV, the bar has been raised and you may really feel Stewart straining to achieve over it in these first couple of episodes.

In a 2008 interview, Tina Fey was requested if she prefers applause or laughter. “Laughter. You possibly can immediate applause with an indication,” she replied. Noting that her buddy Seth Meyers coined the time period “clapter,” which is “whenever you do a political joke and folks go, ‘Woo-hoo,’” she added, “It means they form of approve however didn’t actually prefer it that a lot. You hear quite a lot of that on [whispers] The Day by day Present.”

Watching The Downside With Jon Stewart, you get the impression that Stewart took that criticism to coronary heart, however maybe realized the incorrect lesson. He’s now not going for applause strains, however he’s too usually leaving the humor out altogether. There are a handful of moments when he reminds us of his O.G. standing within the style he roughly created. If he can keep each related and—simply as importantly—humorous, he simply might need a must-watch present on his palms once more.

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