Bush has recommended children stay away from the television
tomorrow. To that list I would like to add adults ... and teenagers
and old people. -- JON STEWART, 9/10/2002
ago the stakes weren't this high," says Jon Stewart over the
phone from his New York studio, explaining how President George
Bush has been able to gain nearly unprecedented political leverage
from the events of Sept. 11. "The last time it's been in this
country is World War II -- and [for Bush] to not use that leverage
for something historic would be sad. Historic in a good sense,"
Stewart quickly clarifies, "not historic in a sense of 'so we
dropped bombs on everyone.'
a real moment when leadership counts. Our country should be
engaged right now in a space race-style search for renewable
energy. You can create a baby in a dish but you can't recalculate
the formula for oil?"
Dubya warned "you are either with us or against us," the hapless
U.S. media has fallen into sensationalistic lockstep. But free
from the reins of, ahem, objectivity, mock-news anchor Jon Stewart
provides this sort of desperately-needed alternative to groupthink.
Since taking over The Daily Show from smarmy Craig Kilborn
back in 1999, Stewart has used his position to draw attention
to dishonesty. But post-9/11, Stewart offers an increasingly
savage critique of "New War" America, one that he brings to
Roy Thomson Hall on Saturday (Oct. 5). Five and Live!
marks the Comedy Network's fifth anniversary, with Stewart performing
alongside network colleagues Elvira Kurt and Jessica Holmes.
brand of low-key, intellectual humour has been on the cultural
radar for several years, first through his eponymous MTV show
and later as "guest host" on The Larry Sanders Show.
But it was his Daily coverage of the presidential election
debacle, presciently dubbed Indecision 2000 long before election
night, that made his mocking matter.
a Peabody and an Emmy in 2001 -- he lost this year's Emmy to
Sting in Tuscany , admitting: "I've always felt, in my
heart, that Sting is funnier than I am" -- Stewart found himself
with an almost unprecedented amount of critical latitude. It's
certainly more than Bill Maher enjoyed, although Stewart has
little sympathy for the Politically Incorrect host whose
show was not renewed by ABC following his comments that the
suicide bombers were far from cowards.
know why people think that somehow the First Amendment applies
to network television," says Stewart. "It doesn't. It's like
the way free speech doesn't apply at work. You can't just walk
into your boss' office and say 'you're a fuckface and I'm gonna
go back to work now.' No, you're not."
own show doesn't cross lines just for the sake of it, he says
he has felt no similar pressure to tone down his jokes. "I think
we're so under the radar on cable that we don't really face
that problem," he says. "We say shit all the time on this show
that is remarkably critical or sassy, so to speak. And there
is no consequence."
night, Stewart and his cohorts skewer the Bushies' lack of compassion,
inability to compromise and, especially, their suspicious, pre-election
antagonism towards Iraq. "Even when it's clear that black is
white and cats are dogs, they refuse to bow from message," Stewart
gripes, citing Chief of Staff Andrew Card's recent response
to a New York Times reporter's question on the sudden
September push towards an Iraq invasion: "From a marketing point
of view, you don't introduce new products in August."
finds the U.S. government's obsession with Iraq nothing short
of bizarre. "It'd be like after [the Japanese] bombed Pearl
Harbour to go: 'That is it, Australia, you are done for!' Honestly,
my theory is that if we get control of the Iraqi oil fields,
we'll have more leverage to go after Saudi Arabia. What other
purpose could there be?" A few nights after speaking to eye,
Stewart posits this conspiracy theory during a Daily Show
interview with George Stephanopoulos, and it does indeed seem
strange that a comic offers more insight than all the talking
heads the media can muster. Which is why he takes TV news to
task almost as frequently as politicians and bureaucrats, particularly
when it comes to the seemingly insatiable desire to frighten
think that's based on ideology, but that's based on business,"
says Stewart. "When they scare you, people watch," he says.
"They've turned Sept. 11 into a movie trailer. I think the problem
is they're so used to making something out of nothing -- like
'can your washing machine kill you?' -- that when something
real happened, they didn't know how to turn the machinery off."
likes to think he represents the distracted centre -- reasonable
people who are at neither extreme and who "aren't out there
fighting for causes because they're busy," he says. "My politics
is that extremism in any form has proven itself to be damaging."
Refreshingly, he still defends the country he takes the piss
out of each night, proud of America's relative honesty. He is
angered by the hypocritical Europeans, who carved up the Arab
world in the first place, and the liberal left, who he feels
have "embraced the idea of terrorists as freedom fighters."
As he prepares to cover the upcoming mid-term elections from
Washington, the self-deprecating comic downplays his outspoken
role, refusing to confuse his TV gig with true activism. "I
just think that we're spitting in the wind. All we can do is
what we think is important and what we think'll be funny. Because
at the end of the day, we're a comedy show, and if we're not
funny there's really no point in us going out there."
FIVE AND LIVE! STARRING JON STEWART
Featuring Jon Stewart, Mike Bullard, Jessica Holmes, Elvira
Kurt, Jeremy Hotz. Oct 5, 8pm. $29.50-$89.50. Roy Thomson Hall,
60 Simcoe. 416-872-4255. www.roythomson.com.]