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article imageJon Stewart: Punching America in the News

By David Silverberg     Sep 2, 2005 in Lifestyle
Digital Journal (Cover Story) — Jon Stewart is threatening my relationship with my girlfriend. It’s unusual to defend my devotion to a TV personality, but my girlfriend’s flares of jealousy are warranted. After all, I tape Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show whenever I go out with her on weeknights. On weekends, I don’t rendezvous with Stewart but I talk about him as if we grew up together. My girlfriend rolls her eyes and half-laughs.
No media celebrity steals my attention like Jon Stewart does. When Stewart lays down a joke, it tickles every part of me that hates greedy power-mongers and vacuous Hollywood culture. The writing on any good show can be so polished it’s flawless, but it’s attitude that makes the moment. As the fake anchorman on North America’s most famous fake newscast, Jon Stewart lines up his targets, spits in their faces and shoots them right between the eyes.
Take a recent joke that shows how ruthless and punchy The Daily Show is. Stewart reported that the House of Representatives voted to ban flag-burning in the U.S. Without missing a beat, Stewart quipped that flag-burning seems to be a bigger issue outside the States. “It’s like banning Americans from using the metric system,” he added.
Cue audience laughter. Cue Stewart’s facial expression of frustration and comedic delight, a difficult smirk to pull off.
There’s the recipe for the wildly popular show that Stewart helms: anger towards hypocritical politicians and lazy journalists mixed with dead-on jokes about how silly our leaders can be. More often than not, he attacks the right wing because he knows his audience: Comedy Central viewers have been known to enjoy a good Karl Rove beatdown.
When the studio lights are off, Stewart is still on. An example of his off-camera character is no better exemplified than in the highly swapped clip of Stewart arguing with Tucker Carlson on CNN’s now-defunct Crossfire. It was in those 15 minutes that Stewart proved he wasn’t going to play nice on a show whose hosts he considered “partisan hacks.” Instead, he played himself — annoyed at the media’s complacency, disappointed in America’s ignorance, quick to anger.
In an unforgettable moment, Stewart called Carlson “a dick” just before the show cut to commercial. It was raw Jon Stewart, a volcano that was waiting to erupt for years. Here was courage, albeit spoken coarsely, in the form of a comic celebrity publicly attacking a neoconservative TV host.
Essentially, that’s what separates Stewart, 42, from the rest of the late-night chaff. His cut-the-crap attitude can smack Wal-Mart, Michael Jackson and Fox News in a two-minute segment. Even his celebrity guests can’t count on their media training: Stewart interrupts movie stars who shamelessly plug their blockbusters and he can argue intelligently with policy makers who wish they were back on CNN. Very few hosts will whip hardballs at Colin Powell’s vague answers, and even fewer will talk video games with Elijah Wood. Stewart is like a class clown who quotes Lenny Bruce and reads Chomsky.

This article is part of Digital Journal's Summer 2005 issue. To read the rest of this story, pick up your copy in bookstores across Canada or the United States!
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