I started this column to talk, mostly, about shows from the past. And I also started this before the announcement that Jon Stewart would be leaving the Daily Show. Right now, even before that announcement, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart feels like the most important show on my television set. I’ve been a Jon Stewart fan for years – watched his third and fourth and fifth billing movie-roles, read his comic essays, followed his comedy career. I’m a fan. And I’ve been checking in with The Daily Show as often as I can across the last decade – catching some of it online, watching it in catch-up marathon bursts over the weekend. One way or another it’s appointment viewing.
And right now it feels like it has hit a new peak. The post-Ferguson commentary around race riots and America’s sick white privilege has been amazing. When Stewart made an apology recently for getting one fact wrong in a report – and being snapped by Fox and piggy-backing right wing pundits – he managed to turn it around to (further) expose the absurdity of how he, as host of a “fake” news show has to be 100% correct.
Jon Stewart’s a filmmaker, writer, comedian, actor and host of The Daily Show – he’s doing his best, right now, to cement that last bit, specifically the show (and then his role as host) as his legacy. It’s in that role where he combines aspects of all of his other skills. He has a great writing team and incredible talent working with him – but make no mistake, it’s his show. He stepped up and took over a show that was devised for someone else and across the last 15 years he’s made it his own.
In just over 20 minutes The Daily Show manages to provide a decent summary of what’s happening in America, news-wise. It then pokes fun at both the news and the mainstream-media’s delivery/filtering of that news. It makes clear the agendas and though it’s certainly no fan of the Republicans the show will happily poke fun at Democrats too. There’s pop-culture references galore and then a celebrity interview – sometimes the usual filmmaker or Hollywood star on the treadmill. But just as often it’s an author or documentarian you haven’t heard of, or it’s a politician or journalist, an aid worker or one of the bad-guy bankers or bosses.
Stewart is sharp. Quick as a whip. And then he works well as relaxed interviewer. He’ll do the shill, help sell the product that’s there to be promoted but he’s still able to stick it to the advertisers he doesn’t agree with – to skewer in the fashion of the early, vital work by Michael Moore. Back when he was creating half-hour TV episodes too.
It’s worth mentioning, too, that The Daily Show has shaped some wonderful comic actors over the last decade. Steve Carrell and Stephen Colbert. John Oliver.. They’ve all gone on to headline their own shows – important shows. Larry Wilmore has just started his own show.
It used to be that Saturday Night Live – for all its flaws – created the comic superstars of tomorrow. They’re now borrowing talent from The Daily Show.
Sure, Stewart gets to play smug, he’s got his lines ready and he nails them – but it’s in the times when you see him passionately batting away at a cause. Knowing he’s the little voice, the voice of reason that’ll no doubt be crushed but he’s still going to needle away. He’s preaching to the converted, a slight problem, but he’s no loose cannon. His is a dedicated, crafted, clever, witty and perseverant attack.
And his show is getting better – of course it’s the sad irony that the deeper the world’s problems, the more corrupt governments become Stewart’s job, in a sense, gets easier. But there’s no laurel-resting going on with this show. It’s currently getting better by the episode.
2014 was a knockout year for The Daily Show.
It’s wonderful to see smart, passionate, compassionate TV. A show where you can laugh and learn something. A show where you can feel the energy of the writers, producers and acting talent involved. They’re united. The absurdity they’re battling is probably stronger than them. That’s the bittersweet taste of it all. But watching Jon Stewart and the members that make up his Daily Show go at the news, the news-makers and the twisted tales told in place of the actual news is hilarious and invigorating.
I love this show.
And I believe that in some strange, TV-land kind of way, Jon Stewart is a saint. He’s doing something very special. And it’s only every now and then that you’ll even get close to spotting him acknowledge that. He’s just soldiering on. Nailing each show. Chasing down the bad guys.
TV Shows That Meant The World To Me started life as a weekly series on the Phantom Billstickers Facebook page