"Stewart: It's hard to be funny again"
The Province (Vancouver)
November 12, 2001
by John McKay

 

TORONTO -- Bland-thrax?

TV comic-host Jon Stewart describes it as "a devastating, minor illness" that afflicts Canadians causing them to, for example, accept a meal placed before them in a diner even though it's not what they ordered.

Like David Letterman, Jay Leno and Conan O'Brian, the Emmy-winning Stewart is one of those American practitioners of post-modern irony. His Daily Show airs weeknights on The Comedy Network and he's also hosting the first of eight new Just For Laughs comedy specials that begin on CBC tonight. Much of the content originates from the Montreal International Comedy Festival.

As for the bland-thrax quip, Stewart says it's merely a testament to the general kindness that emanates from our country.

"Believe me, we much prefer to have you guys as our northern neighbours. I mean, imagine if Mexico was. The hat dance at four in the morning, you know, that would keep all of us awake."

Two months ago, Stewart was not so flip. Like Letterman and other U.S. celebrities, he was visibly devastated on camera in the wake of the events of Sept. 11 and no doubt wondering, too, if humour was dead or at least in an indefinite coma.

He says it is not yet time to make any cultural pronouncements that we are back to normal. Humourists are still feeling their way with whatever intuition they can muster and sometimes that intuition barometer fails.

"Humour is such a subjectively weird genre," he says. "One man's meat is another man's poison, you know? It's so hard to say this is what's allowed, this isn't."

While there is no such thing as normal, Stewart says we're almost back to realizing that every day is a new adventure.

"We vacillate. Some days our heels are planted firmly in the ground and we're ready to fight. And other days we're washing our hands 30 times because we think we have anthrax."

Stewart nixes any notion that the state of Americans' --or western civilization's -- finely-honed sense of parody and wit is what's important.

"It's merely an offshoot of what makes us special, we are a side dish," he maintains. "I don't think the sea change that's occurred has been a cultural one. I think the sea change that's occurred has been one that has been more substantive."

Out of 300 million Americans, he asks, how many really watched the late-night comics for a barometric measurement of the state of their society? And the lack of comedy in places like the Taliban-ruled Afghanistan isn't what's important, either.

"The fact that women aren't allowed out of the house is a much more crucial point than whether or not they've got sketch comedy troupes."

So has his funnybone been inalterably damaged?

"My heart has been permanently altered. Damaged? Absolutely. But sometimes when a bone breaks, it heals stronger. And that's the only way to look at it."

 

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