Speaking generally on politics at the ARCO Forum
Friday night, comedian Jon Stewart coupled self-deprecating humor
with wicked comic jabs to keep the audience rolling in the aisles.
Stewart, host of Comedy Central’s news
parody “The Daily Show,” spoke to an audience of 800
at the Forum and 200 who watched the talk live from two overflow
rooms in the latest installment of the Institute of Politics (IOP)
Friday’s discussion began by focusing
on the role that late night talk shows play in shaping the public’s
understanding of politics.
Moderator Josh I. Weiner ’03, one of the
founders of the IOP humor series, began the evening by citing
a recent Pew Center study that showed more young people get their
news from late night talk shows than from standard news sources.
Stewart stressed that even though “The
Daily Show” impacts young people’s political views,
it does not push a particular agenda.
“We do comedy shows and we tell jokes
about things we care about,” he said. “Those comedians
who say I am affecting political change are assholes.”
When Weiner pressed the issue, Stewart said
simply, “I do my show, I go home.”
But Stewart also acknowledged that politicians
come onto his show with their own agendas—to reach out to
a young, hip audience.
“They look at us like ‘I’ll
sit on your show and kids will think I’m with it,’”
The evening gave Stewart a chance to discuss
his own politics—much to the amusement of the audience.
In a bipartisan slam, Stewart called Republicans
“brilliantly evil,” quickly adding, “Democrats,
by the way, are tragically pathetic.”
He mocked political conventions, calling them
“four-day cheap versions of the Billboard [Music] Awards.”
When asked who he thought the Democratic presidential
nominee would be in 2004, he answered unflinchingly, “The
Rock,” referring to the wrestler.
Turning to Harvard-specific contests, Weiner
asked Stewart who he thought would win in a Death Match—University
President Lawrence H. Summers or former Secretary of State Henry
A. Kissinger ’50.
“Let’s face it—Kissinger is
112,” Stewart said. “Summers would win the fight [but]
ultimately Kissinger would carpet bomb.”
But Stewart turned serious when asked to discuss
the tenure of former New York City mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani.
“What he did for our city was magnificent.
Him carrying himself with dignity and courage made us feel like
we were all going to survive,” he said.
When asked whether he would consider running
for president, Stewart replied, “If the country was on fire,
He then qualified his response by adding, “There
are pictures of me floating around that would disqualify me from
working at a post office.”
During the latter part of the talk, Stewart
took questions from the audience.
He grew animated when responding to a query
about his future plans.
“Did they send you here to fire me?”
Stewart asked. “So this is how it’s going to be!”
Audience members said they enjoyed Stewart’s
“I didn’t think the evening really
plumbed the depths of Jon Stewart’s soul, but it was pretty
funny. He is definitely a gifted comedian,” said Peter K.
Friday’s talk marked the fourth year of
the Institute of Politics humor series. The goal of the series,
according to Weiner, is to explore the role of political humor
in contemporary culture.
Past speakers have included comedians Al Franken
’73 and Chevy Chase.