Barack Obama was US president. Britain was a lynchpin of the European Union. Harvey Weinstein was a powerful movie mogul. Meghan Markle was starring in Suits. “TikTok” did not mean anything and fake news meant a satirical TV program with pretend reporters.
That was the world Jon Stewart left behind when he hosted his last episode of The Daily Show on the Comedy Central network on 6 August 2015, denying a legion of fans his lacerating take on the election, presidency, impeachment, defeat, impeachment again and comeback of Donald Trump.
On Monday, however, Stewart gets a second bite. The 61-year-old is returning to his throne at The Daily Show as a weekly host and executive producer for the 2024 election cycle. For millions of liberal Americans panicking about Joe Biden’s age and living in dread of Trump, it may prove a welcome comfort blanket.
One test will be whether Stewart’s satire will still cut through in a post-pandemic world of disinformation, polarisation and fragmented media – cable TV, which gave rise to Comedy Central and the news it lampooned, appears to be in terminal decline – or if he will resemble an ageing rocker straining to recapture past glories.
“The world has changed a great deal politically, and late-night comedy has changed along with it,” said Stephen Farnsworth, author of Late Night With Trump: Political Humor and the American Presidency. “It is a much darker and more cynical environment than it was before Donald Trump became president.
“It’ll be interesting to see how the new version of Jon Stewart differs from the old. The jokes that he levied against George W Bush, about a bumbling fellow kind of out of his depth, are not the same kind of jokes late-night comics are directing at Donald Trump as a menace to democratic society.”
The Daily Show – first hosted by Craig Kilborn, then Stewart, then South African comedian Trevor Noah – has long skewered the left and right by parodying TV news shows and playing it absolutely straight, no matter how absurd.
The show’s alumni of mock correspondents, who often stand against an obviously false backdrop, now read like a who’s who of American comedy. It has nurtured the likes of Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert, John Oliver, Larry Wilmore, Olivia Munn, Samantha Bee, Roy Wood Jr and Aasif Mandvi.
Stewart was host from 1999 to 2015 and offered a young, politically engaged generation an alternative to the cliches of TV news, seizing the role of court jester to call out hypocrisy and speak truths that establishment media could not or would not.
With a quiver of smartly edited video clips, a wide-eyed look of incredulity and an exclamation of “Are you insane?!”, he also gave the definitive running commentary on Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News and its pernicious influence on the Republican party (former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly used to call viewers of The Daily Show “stoned slackers”).
David Litt, a former White House speechwriter who was described as Obama’s “comic muse”, said: “I’m 37 and I remember during the Iraq war watching Comedy Central – probably the reruns because I wasn’t cool enough to stay up that late – and Jon Stewart both being funny but also willing to cut through the nonsense and be honest when it felt like a lot of the mainstream media would defer to authority.
“That’s a double-edged sword but it was important at the time, and particularly Jon Stewart was the most effective media critic of a generation. There was a very long time where he was a check on not just Fox News but also the New York Times or CNN or nonpartisan media that often tends to find equivalencies in both-sides issues. To me, that’s the biggest thing that disappeared when he left.”
Studies found that The Daily Show, which interviewed presidents and presidential candidates, was a key news source for many young Americans. An opinion poll ranked him as the most trusted journalist in America – even though he always protested that he was not a journalist.
Sophia McClennen, a professor of international affairs and comparative literature at Pennsylvania State University, said: “Jon Stewart on The Daily Show redefined the genre of satire news and made it not just a comment on the news but a source of it. We have really conclusive data that people were actually going to it first as a source of news.
“We also have the fact that the viewers of that show were more informed than viewers of cable news. The data is conclusive on that too: the people who watched the show knew the issues better than the majority of other mainstream news sources other than, say, something like NPR [National Public Radio].”
After 16 years at the helm, Stewart departed in style, signing off with a prophetic monologue that began with “Bullshit is everywhere,” and closed with “So I say to you tonight, friends, the best defence against bullshit is vigilance. So if you smell something, say something.” Trump was elected three months later.
What a time to leave. In a 2015 interview with the Guardian, Stewart explained why he walked away when he did: “It’s not like I thought the show wasn’t working any more, or that I didn’t know how to do it. It was more, ‘Yup, it’s working. But I’m not getting the same satisfaction.’”
The decade since has had its ups and downs. Stewart became an activist on behalf of rescue workers from the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks. But a foray into Hollywood had mixed results. Irresistible, a 2020 film written and directed by Stewart, was described by the New York Times as “a political satire so broad and blunt that it flattens every joke and deflates every setup”.
Then, The Problem With Jon Stewart, an hour-long current affairs show that debuted in 2021 and took on topics such as racism, climate change, mass incarceration and gun control, was cancelled by the Apple TV+ streaming service.
Stewart never expressed regret over leaving The Daily Show but did tell the Strike Force Five podcast during the Hollywood strikes last year: “When you lose that structure, you’re untethered from the thing that prevents the bad mind from doing its corrupt best. It goes south and dark really fast.”
The show, which won an Emmy award this month for best talk series, has not had a permanent host since Noah left last year. Current correspondents include Desi Lydic, Michael Kosta, Ronny Chieng and Jordan Klepper. Stewart will host on Mondays while a rotating lineup of show regulars will be in the chair for the rest of the week.
Many viewers now consume clips online rather than watch them at the time of broadcast. Stewart had more than 1.3 million viewers in his last season; Noah was down to 372,000 in 2022. But McClennen, author of Trump Was a Joke: How Satire Made Sense of a President Who Didn’t, is optimistic about Stewart’s return to the throne before an election that could test American democracy to its breaking point.
“He certainly is the master, and to have the founding father of US satire news – not to forget the contributions of Michael Moore – is certainly valuable in the current landscape,” she said. “First of all, it’s not like Jon Stewart went under a rock. He did have his own show. He’s been out there. Second of all, I think he’s going to make a lot of jokes about being old. Let’s hope that they’re funnier than Biden’s.”
Diğer gönderilerimize göz at