Jon Stewart and his writing staff at Comedy
Central’s The Daily Show have revived satire as a form of
witty, active social and political critique — and just plain
fun poking. That’s quite an accomplishment in the land of
dick jokes that pretty much passes as modern comedy’s terrain.
And if dick jokes have a stronghold, it’s certainly stand-up.
So it was fascinating to see how Stewart carried himself
when he entered that territory last Saturday for a solo performance
at the Orpheum. When he last came to Boston, headlining the Comedy
Connection, his Daily Show reign had just begun. He returned this
time with Emmy and Peabody awards under his belt for his work
on the mock news program, so the stakes were considerably higher.
And he played the game well, ricocheting between
arch humor and lowbrow gags, sustaining a balance of risky observations
and cheap, reliable laughs. Wearing a gray sweater and matching
chinos, he mixed older material with new one-liners, all of it
geared to his Boston audience. He zoomed in on the city’s
reputation as a drinking town, called Boston his "favorite city
to beat up Moby in," and then got down to the hard stuff. "I’m
sorry about you guys not having a cardinal. Has it been tough
since he resigned? Is the city lacking a moral center now?" He
also talked about a new fashion accessory for the city’s
Catholic hierarchy ("They have a little wristband that says, ‘What
would Enron do?’ ") before going on to savage Mississippi
senator Trent Lott’s phony apology — and Boston’s
reputation for segregation, including the banning of gay groups
from the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. "Gay people are very
flamboyant, and you don’t want them distracting from the
dignity of that parade," he observed with a trademark rise of
his eyebrows and a look of puppy-dog innocence.
Sure, he did get to the dick jokes and the lines
about his ass hair combover (to cover a bald spot on his left
cheek). But before that, he jabbed at both US policy on Iraq and
Saddam Hussein himself, heroin chic, computer games, and phone
sex. His finale was one of his vintage crowd killers: a stomach-churning
but hilarious routine about his dog’s explosive diarrhea.
I presume Stewart packs venues like
the Orpheum and college arenas these days because of his Daily
Show exposure. But if anybody in the crowd was disappointed by
his sometimes decidedly unlofty bent, it was impossible to tell
over the howls and applause. His mix of relaxed familiarity, a
congenial nature, sparkling wit, and self-depreciating humor makes
him the rare comic who can be all things to his fans, from arch
observer to foul-mouthed-but-lovable slob.