Sure, Jon Stewart is Funny, But He’s Also Lazy

A Tried & Tired Format Ruins Ol’ Stewbeef

Henry T. Casey
Aug 29, 2014 · 5 min read

Never again am I going to say it’s unfortunate how Jon Stewart’s vacation schedule coincides with national crises, because we’ve seen what little he really has for us.

When he finally shows up to save the day … with a form letter only modified with new names and places.

Having spent two weeks on vacation, as Jon shows back up, he rightfully starts off with the tragedy in Ferguson, Missouri. Except it was barely about Ferguson, Missouri.

At first, for context, it was. I’m not sure, though, why Jon Stewart hastened his pace to make “ShootingByPoliceOfTeenagerMichaelBrown” all one word, but it certainly showed what Stewart doesn’t feel comfortable covering.

The message at the end of his monologue was great, and I have no conflict with what Stewart set out to convey. Much of white America is ignorant of the privilege it has to not know the terms of the unreasonable and sometimes fatal consequences of being black in America.

The problem, though, is wasting the majority of the segment on Sean Hannity, Gretchen Carlson, Bill O’Reilly, and the rest of the fractions of humanity that take up the airtime on Fox News. That Jon Stewart’s focus was harping on Fox harping on how The Media was covering Ferguson.

And it went even further off the rails in order to prove its point, going off on the topics that Fox loves to whine about, The War On Christmas. Stewart continues to move the conversation to areas that are much easier for his team to find the funny, because those moments are filed and sorted and old news.

Why couldn’t the focus of the segments had been about anything other than these favorite targets/most low hanging of fruit? Unfortunately, by putting most of his grief on the shoulders of Fox News, Stewart is unfortunately keeping the spotlight off of Ferguson.

There still are problems in Ferguson, though, especially in how this case is tried, this story is not over. Stewart may brush away these suggestions, as he frequently says his show has a lot less responsibility than some demand.

The problem, though, is that the show sometimes feels useless as long as Stewart only feels safe attacking soft targets. What is he afraid of? Bill O’Reilly, Dennis Leary, and Sean Hannity showing up next week to deck him in the face on the behalf of all cops?

The second segment saw Michael Che (billed as Senior Missouri Correspondent), a relative newcomer to the correspondent team, explain how — sadly & unfortunately — Ferguson is just another state where you can be shot to death for being black.

Similar in structure to Jessica Williams’ recent piece on the dangers inherent to being female while trying to avoid rape, this piece was great. Not only did it hit the comedic points it needed to, it did a better job of focusing to the issues than the first segment

To start off the episode, though, The Daily Show stepped outside of their format, with a prerecorded segment. Surely this helped sate my want for Jon to do something different? Much like Mr. Stewart, though, the evidence I’m about to present disappointed me.

Even if you’re going to make this story about The Media, make it about the media in Ferguson. The minimum treatment and time that The Daily Show gave to the teargas and mace happy meals given to journalists came in the form of the episode’s cold open: The Ferguson Challenge. A thoroughly unfunny riff on the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge that saw Stewart attacked with CGI tear gas and kool-aid disguised as mace, this could have been funny in the writer’s room. More likely, though, it was probably infuriating to the journalists who were actually teargassed.

The same journalists who didn’t even sit in the guest chair for that night’s episode. You’d think that the show’s guest booker could have brought in one reporter who had by now returned from Ferguson, to talk on the matter.

Instead, Stewart proved his earlier thesis about the two worlds that Whites and Non-Whites live in, by welcoming the most boring man in the country: MIT researcher and Ditto Labs CEO David Rose. They spoke about the new roles that household appliances will take once they can be connected to apps and everyone else soon. His whole family wear FitBit devices, he owns a scale that tweets his weight out to the public, and surprise: he’s white.

Not that minorities don’t own FitBits or take their health seriously, but this booking was so amazingly tone-deaf. After focusing on Ferguson, the show had to display its roots and get its navel gaze on. I couldn’t believe it when Stewart asked the guy to stick around for an internet-only segment.

The next night, Stephen Colbert proved that in character, he is more able to make a statement, and risk touching a raw nerve than his 11pm counterpart:

“I urge everyone to wait to pass judgement on officer Darren Wilson. Some are rushing to judge this man as a violent racist cop who gunned down an unarmed black teenager, but others argue that he’s a heroic police officer doing his job, by gunning down an unarmed black teenager. But we don’t know if this was racist, or even if racism still exists.” – Colbert Report, 8/27

Colbert doesn’t have all the answers about Ferguson, but he’s not afraid of focusing on the problems that lead to these horrors.

This is the kind of statement Colbert feels comfortable making, as one of the last unpredictable voices in pop culture. It’s engineered to worry audiences, because since most are aware that racism didn’t go away any time in recent history.

Luckily, the trend of late night airing after The Daily Show won’t end as Colbert leaves to replace Letterman. Larry Wilmore, The Daily Show’s Senior Black Correspondent, will be taking over the 11:30p time slot for a show called The Minority Report. One that will likely be as willing to hold Jon Stewart’s feet to the fire as it is eager to beat up on the easy targets.

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