JON STEWART insists he's not cynical.
"I cannot believe you are more cynical than
I am — and you're Canadian!" he accuses me on the line from Manhattan.
"As a matter of fact, I don't think I'm cynical at all."
Hard to believe of the guy who seems to
have a smirk Krazy Glued to his face each and every time he opens
The Daily Show With Jon Stewart.
His "fake news show" — kind of a cross between
Saturday Night Live's "Weekend Update" and CBC's This
Hour Has 22 Minutes, only with correspondents — airs Monday
through Thursday at 11 p.m. on the Comedy Network.
Just as it demonstrated last year during
the U.S. presidential race, a contest that it presciently dubbed
"Indecision 2001" even before one chad was left hanging, The
Daily Show is, in the wake of Sept.11, serving up the sharpest,
funniest, edgiest media and cultural criticism on U.S. TV.
Sad, when you think about it. For all the
blah-blah and blather on CNN, MSNBC, the Sunday morning newscasts
and the primetime newsmagazines, rarely is a jaundiced eye cast
upon the media themselves.
But, just the other night, Stewart launched
into a tirade about CNN's 24/7 coverage of "America's New War,"
or "America Fights Back," "The Spirit Of America" or whatever the
news channel is calling the current crisis.
Taking issue with how retired army general
after former national security council adviser after bioterrorism
expert after airline safety professor gets face time to fulminate
and prognosticate in the absence of hard facts, Stewart quoted a
CNN anchor asking: "Would you care to speculate on the assumptions
we've just heard?"
"What are you doing to us?" Stewart cried.
"You're supposed to be helping us! The whole thing is making me
No wonder The Daily Show won an Emmy
earlier this month for "Outstanding Writing For a Variety, Music
or Comedy Program," beating out bigger, richer network efforts such
as The Tonight Show With Jay Leno and The Late Show With
As for political criticism, more often than
not, most TV offers little more than partisan political screamfests.
But The Daily Show?
Consider what it has done in the past couple
While Leno has been giving us his Dancing
Itos recycled as Dancing Bin Ladens, while Letterman has been bemoaning
the fact he's never invited on Oprah and while Politically
Incorrect's Bill Maher seems to have gone off the deep end to
prove his patriotism after almost being shut down in September,
The Daily Show has been comedically covering events under
the banner "America Freaks Out."
Fake news correspondents Steve Carell, Stephen
Colbert, Mo Rocca and others have attacked everything from Americans'
unwillingness to make sacrifices to the packaging and the marketing
of the war to beard styles in Kabul.
Nothing and nobody are safe. Not even the
Two weeks ago, Stewart mocked how George
W. Bush looked in the polka dot pyjamas he donned in China.
Thursday night, he had Bush riding around
his ranch in a pickup with Russian president Vladimir Putin singing
Jackson Browne's "Take It Easy."
All this despite how Stewart, when his show
returned after being off the air in the aftermath of the World Trade
Center bombings, said "subliminable" was no longer a punchline.
"One day it will become that again, and Lord
willing, it will become that again because that means we have ridden
out the storm," he said.
Are we there yet?
"I think when they return to politics as
opposed to statesmanship, that will be when we go back to making
political jokes," he says. "We're going with the fact that Kabul
has been liberated as opposed to the fact that (Republican Senator)
Trent Lott wants to hold up $10 billion in spending to New York
City. There's only so much you can do with that, comedy-wise."
In any case, Stewart says that he and his
writing team are still reacting to the terrorist attacks and all
the other calamitous events since.
"Right now we're not freaking out so much,"
Stewart explains. "Now we've just been pulverized into shell-shocked
submission and apathetic agreement that we are in peril."
But, no matter how it looks to viewers,
The Daily Show does not set out to be wicked, Stewart insists.
"Our comedy is not based in naughtiness.
It's based in viscera," he says. "It's based in how we're feeling
in a real way — and then we just try and turn it into funny because
it probably wouldn't be that entertaining to sit for half an hour
watching me yell.
"We don't set out to be naughty."
Well, that's not completely true, I insist,
particularly when it comes to making Canada jokes. The Daily
Show just can't seem to resist making fun of us. For example,
last month, when anthrax was the big news, Stewart accused Canada
of suffering from "Bland-thrax."
Last Thursday, when The Daily Show was
funning with the hyperama that is Harry Potter And The Philosopher's
Stone, it showed a clip of Sigourney Weaver saying "It would
be wonderful if there was a magical world next to ours that we can't
Cut to Stewart looking straight to camera:
"There is a magical world next to ours: I call it Canada."
This kind of thing goes on with alarming,
for American TV, regularity.
"I enjoy Canada," says Stewart who has made
movies in Toronto and hosted last year's Just For Laughs Festival
in Montreal. "I think you make fine neighbours to the north. It's
certainly better than having Mexico living in our attic."
Of course, it's easy to poke fun at us.
But when will Stewart be able to return to "business as usual,"
the down and dirty business of lampooning everyone and everything,
no holds barred?
"I'm not sure what that means: This
is business as usual," he says. "We're looking at the world and
trying to find the smartest, funniest take that we can possibly
find on it. That's what we did before this happened and hopefully
that's what we will continue to do."
Copyright © 2001 Toronto Sun.
All rights reserved.
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