Show Us the Funny

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Over at his new blog, Reason alumnus Ryan Sager complains that Jon Stewart, who kissed John Kerry's ass on The Daily Show last night, is becoming less funny as he becomes more openly partisan. I agree. The problem is not the attacks on Bush and the Republicans. Lord knows they deserve it, and even when The Daily Show goes after them for the wrong reasons, it's often funny. The problem is the lack of attacks on Kerry and the Democrats, who are equally ripe for mocking. On the increasingly rare occasions when the show does make fun of Democrats, it tends to be a gentle ribbing (e.g., references to Kerry's lack of charisma or his wife's money) rather than the ridicule they deserve. I fear that Stewart, despite his frequent protestations to the contrary ("As a fake journalist…"), bas begun to take himself seriously.

When it comes to political satire, I prefer an attitude similar to that of South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, as described in Sunday's New York Times:

Mr. Parker and Mr. Stone seem bent on offending as many people as possible. In "Team America" [their new puppet action movie], they take aim at sanctimonious right-wing nut-jobs and smug Hollywood liberals alike.

Alec Baldwin, for example, emerges as a villain almost as evil as Kim Jong Il. Sean Penn and Danny Glover take up arms to fight beside Mr. Kim, with Mr. Penn crying "Die, conservative!" before blowing away a Team America member….

[Parker and Stone] think President Bush is stupid, but they can't stand John Kerry either. "We hate both of them," Mr. Parker confirmed. "They're both retards. We have to choose between a" ? four-letter word ? "sandwich and a" ? same four-letter word ? "sandwich."

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  1. “I am so tired of people telling me there is no choice between the two candidates.”

    Uh, I hate to break it to ya …

  2. There is a difference between the two. One looks like a shaved chimp and the other looks like Lurch.

  3. Honestly, nothing has done more to morph me into a Kerry supporter than the fact-free bitching and moaning from people who say he’s no different than Bush. When George Monbiot and John Pilger tell me to jump, I start digging.

  4. After his weepy post-9/11 soliloquy, I thought Stewart would be serious about the war, or at least hard on people who dismiss it. But he’s in Moore territory now, to the dismay of at least half his viewers.

    I disagree, I think Stewart, knowning what we know now about Iraq, should have been harder on war supporters. And to the dismay of you the viewer, TDS’s ratings are still going smoothly and 2 Golden Globes were recently won. Not bad for Comedy Central, I would say.

    As for Moore’s terror-tory, its so far left, it borders the Coulter/Limbaugh terror-tory. Al Franken makes it, but not Jon Stewart…yet.

  5. I don’t know why people are shocked or offended that Stewart kissed Kerry’s ass.

    Stewart has kissed every single square inch of Michael Moore’s copious ass every time that fat fraud has appeared on his show. If Stewart’s willing to suck up to someone as corrupt, dishonest, and partisan as Moore, the fact that he’s willing to kiss the ass of a run-of-the-mill Democratic politician shouldn’t come as any surprise to anyone.

  6. Dan, very well put.

    Stewart’s head expanded to the diameter of the planet Mercury when Morley Safer gave him/TDS a rimjob several months ago. It was the equivalent to an induction into the Jesuit Order of liberalism: “Brother John, God bless you on your quest to vanquish conservatism.”

  7. I don’t know. He kissed Henry Kissinger’s wretched ass pretty thoroughly as well. Go figure.

  8. Seriously. Has no one sympathy for what politicians are doing to The Daily Show? Before politicians decided they needed to be _on_ The Daily Show, it was easy for the writers to shot jokes in all directions, and it was simple for Stewart to mouth off.
    But what do you do when Henry Kissinger asks to be on your show? How can you say no? At the same time, how can you possibly really “roast” the guy? The writes of TDS are not policy wonks, and, more importantly, _they do not want to be_. Politicians give TDS legitimacy, _which is not what it wants_.
    They want to sit in the back of the classroom and lob spitballs. They want to make fun of Peter “Canadian sympathizer” Jennings and Tom “This Generation Sucks” Brokaw. And they’ll give you an interview with folks like Eva Mendes, just to show you how stupid those types of interviews can be.
    But now Stewart’s got to be up to the task to interviewing Henry Kissinger, Madeline ALbright, Bill Clinton, Bill Kristol, Jonah Goldberg, and Good Old Mayor Bloomberg. He has to sit there and pretend their jokes are funny. He has to try to make them interesting for four minutes. But if he isn’t sufficiently “critical,” well, the blogosphere will set him right.
    Pity the poor TDS. They have destroyed a fine institution lacking in all credibility by putting it in a suit and making it lead the class discussion.
    I’m sure they’d be happy letting Wolf Blitzer handle crap like that.

    Anon

  9. This bit sums up your argument, Jake, for presenting equal sides of every dumbshit story.

    STEWART: Here’s what puzzles me most, Rob. John Kerry’s record in Vietnam is pretty much right there in the official records of the US military, and haven’t been disputed for 35 years?

    CORDDRY: That’s right, Jon, and that’s certainly the spin you’ll be hearing coming from the Kerry campaign over the next few days.

    STEWART: Th-that’s not a spin thing, that’s a fact. That’s established.

    CORDDRY: Exactly, Jon, and that established, incontravertible fact is one side of the story.

    STEWART: But that should be — isn’t that the end of the story? I mean, you’ve seen the records, haven’t you? What’s your opinion?

    CORDDRY: I’m sorry, my *opinion*? No, I don’t have ‘o-pin-i-ons’. I’m a reporter, Jon, and my job is to spend half the time repeating what one side says, and half the time repeating the other. Little thing called ‘objectivity’ — might wanna look it up some day.

    STEWART: Doesn’t objectivity mean objectively weighing the evidence, and calling out what’s credible and what isn’t?

    CORDDRY: Whoa-ho! Well, well, well — sounds like someone wants the media to act as a filter! [high-pitched, effeminate] ‘Ooh, this allegation is spurious! Upon investigation this claim lacks any basis in reality! Mmm, mmm, mmm.’ Listen buddy: not my job to stand between the people talking to me and the people listening to me.

    STEWART: So, basically, you’re saying that this back-and-forth is never going to end.

    CORDDRY: No, Jon — in fact a new group has emerged, this one composed of former Bush colleages, challenging the president’s activities during the Vietnam era. That group: Drunken Stateside Sons of Privilege for Plausible Deniability. They’ve apparently got some things to say about a certain Halloween party in ’71 that involved trashcan punch and a sodomized pi?ata. Jon — they just want to set the record straight. That’s all they’re out for.

    STEWART: Well, thank you Rob, good luck out there. We’ll be right back.

  10. … well, it certainly does a good job of supporting Jacob’s case that The Daily Show isn’t very funny anymore, anyway. 🙂

  11. I only heard the NPR Morning Edition recap of the Stewart-Kerry interview this morning, but it certainly did seem to be a soft-pedaled ribbing. Stewart’s interview with Jonah Goldberg (I know, not people around here’s favorite guy, but about the only actual conservative I’ve seen on The Daily Show) was far more adversarial, without dipping into meanness, but still actually had some questions and barbs. The NPR recap made it seem like with Kerry it was ‘you and me against those bad Repubs…’ And that was a good thing to the Morning Edition crew.

    If you want to listen, at least to the NPR story, it’s here.

  12. Well, you can’t make the Daily Show’s heart really be in it, that would be a recipe for comic disaster.

    As for the South Park v. Daily Show comparison, I personally prefer cleverness, subtlety, ironic juxtaposition, and execution to attitude and shock value (although I still enjoy at least half of the South Park episodes).

  13. I knew the Daily Show was sliding down when my mom told me she loved watching it. Err, the next day when it repeats at 7 or whatever (mom goes to bed early).

    Along the same lines, anybody out there get the feeling, should Bush win, the era of Big Media is over? (They were dying anyway… but like faster).

    I mean, a rather deciding factor in the 2k race was that, early on, journalists covering the race decided they hated Gore with a passion. So, all those stories about him (the “invented the Internet thing”) got iterated around the airwaves quick than faux victimization at a Take Back the Night.

    These days, whatever your opinions on Iraq, W, Republicans, etc., it’s pretty clear all the major outlets not named Wash Times or WSJ have it in for W.

    If he should win, will we ever care about Rather again?

    Is it worth four more years of Ashcroft and the invasion of Iran to watch them go?

    Indecision, 2004.

  14. Along the same lines, anybody out there get the feeling, should Bush win, the era of Big Media is over? (They were dying anyway… but like faster).

    I don’t know why it would be. Clinton’s re-election certainly didn’t hurt Rush Limbaugh’s career.

  15. Interestingly, much the exact same thing happened a long time ago with Salon. I credit it to severe existential angst on the part of the editors.

  16. I saw the show and it was definitely a soft interview. But what did you expect? What candidate is going to agree to appear in a hostile or even skeptical environment? That’s what surrogates are for.

    Looking at the bigger Daily Show picture, the satire is certainly weighted in quantity and seriousness toward the Republican side. It’s potentially an interesting case study in the area of “Objectivity: Real and Perceived,” which has been much explored in the liberal-ish blogosphere. Would TDS be “better” if it spent equal time bashing Kerry/Dems? Does “better” matter? Would it be funnier? If you believe that “news” shows have some kind of special responsbility, how seriously does TDS have to take itself before accepting some of that responsibility? Is “this is fake news” a sufficient disclaimer?

  17. The problem is the lack of attacks on Kerry and the Democrats, who are equally ripe for mocking.

    Sure, sure, but the Strict-Dad’s-Club-of-America, aka the GOP, deserve extra helpings to keep the youth portion of the demographics viewing.

  18. I tend to agree that The Daily Show goes after Bush and the GOP more than the other side, but since the aforementioned are in power, why wouldn’t that be the case? Bush and Co. make the news every day. Therefore they are more appealing targets for The Daily Show’s humor.

    Didn’t catch the Kerry interview, but then I usually try to skip that part. You can only watch Joseph Wilson III so many times.

    And personally I think “South Park” is clever and subtle in any number of ways.

  19. Comedy tends to root for the underdog. The dems are something like an underdog at the moment in that they don’t have the congress or the president. People like Stewart seemed to enjoy ribbing Clinton because he was a winner. Despite all his screwing up it was his enemies who resigned in disgrace, one after the other. But kicking a loser isn’t as much fun.

    I too think Limbaugh, Hannity, etc., will be secretly more happy when they have a dem president to bash, rather than doing what they do now: chomping down on one crap dubya sandwich after another and pretending it’s the yummiest thing ever.

  20. I too think Limbaugh, Hannity, etc., will be secretly more happy when they have a dem president to bash, rather than doing what they do now: chomping down on one crap dubya sandwich after another and pretending it’s the yummiest thing ever.

    I second that! Bashing is much more fun than being a voicebox and defender for a crap filled agenda.

  21. I don’t know why it would be. Clinton’s re-election certainly didn’t hurt Rush Limbaugh’s career.

    Good point, sir. But, though I can by no stretch of the imagination speak for all Limbaugh listeners, the ones who did tune in, in my experience, sorta knew it was rabble-rousing…

    Does that mean future NYT readers will get ads the equivalent of “Campaign to End Union Violence?”

  22. I am so tired of people telling me there is no choice between the two candidates. The clever four-letter word analogy aside, Trey and Matt have said nothing new. When Howard Dean was being labeled as too far left, it’s no wonder we get the boring candidate who has to walk an absurd line set forth by the media and electorate. Same for Bush and his lies about McCain. America gets the Democracy it deserves.

    As for John Stewart interviews, most are only 4 minutes long. Go to bed early.

  23. Richard Clarke on Comedy Central was painful to watch. There wasn’t anything for Jon Stewart to work with.

    Clarke. Not. A. Funny. Man.

    He thought he was on “Face The Nation” or something.

  24. Amen. The show has really gone downhill in the last two years. Even the fake report segments aren’t nearly as good as they used to be. Remember Even Steven? Now that was funny.

    After his weepy post-9/11 soliloquy, I thought Stewart would be serious about the war, or at least hard on people who dismiss it. But he’s in Moore territory now, to the dismay of at least half his viewers.

  25. I have always enjoyed the piss everybody off ethos of South Park, but the truth is they’ve generally just tried to piss off people they don’t like. But to pretend Tim Robbins and, say, Paul Wolfowitz have an equal capacity to damage this country is absurd. (The Times article mentions plenty of liberal actors being skewered, but it doesn’t mention a single politician — unless you believe that Kim Jong Il and, say Janeane Garofalo are equal menaces to America.)

    The South Park guys generally dislike people who take themselves too seriously. This is great fun, but it has nothing to do with the content of what those people say. This is why I think South Park is great current social commentary and only passable satire.

    That, and their fondness for the musical, is good enough for me.

  26. Brett: After his weepy post-9/11 soliloquy, I thought Stewart would be serious about the war, or at least hard on people who dismiss it. But he’s in Moore territory now, to the dismay of at least half his viewers.

    Serious about which war? The war on Al Qaeda, or the completely unrelated fictition (as Moore dubbed it) known as the Iraq war.

  27. Damn, Gadfly, you beat me to it. I was all set to past in that same exchange. Dan may think it’s dull, but I thought it captured perfectly the “both sides” model of “professional objectivity,” where any recourse to the factual realm to evaluate the opposing statements is considered taking sides.

    Personally, I think that’s a load of crap. The adversarial process is a much better way of arriving at truth than a phony, dumbed-down “objectivity.” The best press America ever had was in the nineteenth-century, before Lippmann’s “professionals” took over and erected the divide between the news and editorial divisions. Back then, the partisan press made a case for what it saw as the truth, using the available evidence to best advantage. Of course, this included the certainty that one’s case would be ruthlessly cross-examined by the opposition. We see this model today in the alternative press of left and right, and in the blogosphere. Here’s to the death of “professional” journalism!

    This is another good example of biting commentary you can’t find anywhere else on TV: Talking Points: “They’re True Because They’re Said a Lot”

    Of course, Stewart could have found similar offenses on the “other side.” During the early days of the “Gingrich Revolution” in ’95, I remember seeing about two dozen of the “usual suspects” every morning on C-SPAN during the one-minute speech period. Every single one of them would refer to “mean-spirited Republicans” who wanted to “cut our children’s school lunch funding.”

  28. Shit–did it again! I made a Simpsons allusion a while back under the name “Kent Brockman,” and keep forgetting to change it back.

  29. Dan may think it’s dull, but I thought it captured perfectly the “both sides” model of “professional objectivity,” where any recourse to the factual realm to evaluate the opposing statements is considered taking sides.

    It captured perfectly Stewart’s willingness to uncritically accept left-wing claims and present them as undisputed facts.

    The truth of the matter is that Kerry’s record (a) is not public and (b) has been harshly questioned for decades. So anyone claiming that Kerry’s version of the story is the established, incontrovertible and undisputed truth is obviously completely disinterested in “the factual realm”.

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