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
"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."