Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Rise of the Comedians

        “Should Jon Stewart Have Called the President ‘Dude’?”

                    Question posed by WSJ.com, the website of the Wall Street Journal

It was extraordinary. With only six days left till the mid-term elections, the President of the United States, POTUS to his friends, appeared live on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show. The “Fake News” program has risen in the ranks of media to this lofty position. And, Stewart did, indeed, call the President “dude”. Personally, I think “His Dudeness” would have been more appropriate. But, that title was taken by the Big Lebowski and I would hate to have the image of Jeff Bridges in his boxers and robe in my head when thinking of the President.

But, the grand finale of his week of live TV in DC was not his chat with the President; it was the “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear” held on the Washington Mall on Saturday. The event was also broadcast live on the Comedy Channel. It was mostly music and typical Comedy Channel stuff – a few laugh out loud jokes interspersed with a few hundred not funny jokes. But, Stewart had a serious intent as well. Not wanting to take sides in the culture war, he went after the press.

“The press can hold its magnifying glass up to our problems bringing them into focus, illuminating issues heretofore unseen or they can use that magnifying glass to light ants on fire and then perhaps host a week of shows on the sudden, unexpected dangerous flaming ant epidemic.”

That was one of the LOL moments. It’s funnier when you hear it than when you read it.

That 200,000 people showed up is not just a measure of Stewart’s impact as a comedian but rather a measure of how he has become an arbiter of, well, sanity.

It wasn’t always this way. Mark Twain is often given credit for being America’s first “humorist”. He had a way with a one liner. But, his comments were not personal in nature. In a sense, his lines were simply proverbs with a barb. Proverbs have been around for centuries. “A fool and his money are soon parted” was written by Thomas Tusser in the 16th Century.

In the century before Twain, Ben Franklin was prolific in the same form:

“Well done is better than well said.”

So, while Twain added politics to the form, he didn’t change the form itself:

“Suppose you were an idiot, and suppose you were a member of Congress; but I repeat myself.”

Even Will Rogers, who sounds funnier to our more modern ears, didn’t really get personal:

“A fool and his money are soon elected.”

It wasn’t until after WW II that things started to turn personal. Here’s Bob Hope:

“I don’t know what people have against Jimmy Carter. He’s done nothing.”

More contemporary is Jay Leno:

“According to New York publishers, Bill Clinton will get more money for his book than Hillary Clinton got for hers. Well, duh. At least his book has some sex in it.”

But, Stewart has taken the form to a whole new level. His event, in some part, might have been called a “Rally from the Back of the Classroom”. All that was missing was the spitballs. However, the underlying thrust was quite serious. The country has serious problems and the numbskulls in government enabled by the media are not addressing those problems.

“Not being able to distinguish between real racists and Tea Partiers or real bigots and Juan Williams… is an insult, not only to those people but to the racists themselves who have put in the exhausting effort it takes to hate…”

Post event, Stewart and his partner in crime, Steven Colbert, denied any intent besides pure entertainment. Smart move! If they had expressed a grander goal, they would no doubt be excoriated for their ambition. The better tactic is to sit back and let the message sink in. We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore. But, to maintain our own sanity, we know you have to laugh or you’d cry.

In a sense, Stewart has become a LEADER. By filling an obvious void, he has demonstrated that there is an appetite for something other than the insanity that our political parties – or the Tea Party – offer us. He has shown us an opportunity. Who will step into the breach? Or to put it another way, WHO WILL LEAD?


  1. Jon Stewart has become more impressive as a journalist lately, or perhaps I've started paying more attention to him. Yes, he's a pundit. Yes, it's entertainment. But it's also pragmatic, and in some cases performs the function of a journalist.
    The first time I concluded this was when Stewart got "Mad Money" Jim Cramer to admit on live television that he was a manipulator of stock buyers, and that he could/should have foretold the stock market crash, but didn't. Cramer is still doing his schtick.
    Landing the president on this kind of 'fake news' show is a very strong accomplishment. Sure Barak was eager to beg democrats to vote, and Stewart is liberal, and is much of his audience, but, it's a notable achievement. Once he's there, whatever communications occurs is a bonus. Stewart elevated himself with the 'dudisms' and there was no need for ring-kissing.
    I watched the end of the Rally for Sanity/Fear and thought Stewart's speech was phenomenal. His message is interspersed with verbal pratfalls to keep his comedic delivery method consistent, but if you don't get sidetracked by the quip, the speech was very solid, very well developed, obviously the crescendo of the event, and very worthy of repeating. I intend to repeat it myself.

  2. Why have we become so complacent as a society that we continue to elect the "butt(s)" of "back of the classroom" comedians' cynicism? While I appreciate the humor of Jon Stewart, I feel a certain sense of chagrin that the President of the United States has elevated a platform for "the smartass with a spitball" to credibility in the political arena. Perhaps the punchline of it all is that politics has become nothing more than a joke--a really awful pun.

  3. Comedians are (and have historically been) helpful in keeping politicians on their toes and holding them accountable in ways the political process cannot. However, for comedians to be integrally involved in the political process is a mistake. If for no other reason, it will be the ruination of comedy.

    By the way, I think it is disresepectful for anyone to call the President "dude." The trend seems to be for politicians to be more a part of our pop/social culture, tweeting incessantly, showing up on TV shows, etc. I think this is regretable, as it reduces things to the lowest common denominator, appealing to the masses (campaign managers may advise this is essential, though). At this rate, we will have the society portrayed in Ideocracy a lot sooner than the movie predicted.

  4. This president just begs for disrespect. If you show nothing but contempt for the country, its history, and the office of president by constantly being the apologist in chief, then the only fitting venue for delivering your message has to be a comedy show. His Dudeness, like man with no disrepect to "The Dude", who by the way does not need two teleprompters permanently embedded in his ass to get his message across, has been little more than a joke in the almost two years of his, I hope one term tenure. Joe Wilson called it early on when he coined the most forthwright appraisal of the obama presidency, "You Lie". He certainly did say "You Lead" and therein lies the unanswered question proposed by Mr. Calia, "Who Will Lead?"

    It appears that Mr. Stewart representing the Comedians and the Congress representing the Idiots have stepped up to the forefront to accept the leadership role. As "The Dude" would say, "This will not stand". I am hoping against hope that from the elections today that someone will come forward and will lead. The People are ripe for a real leader, The "Real" Dude if you might. As The Stranger said in "THE BIG LEBOWSKI", "The Dude abides. I don't know about you but I take comfort in that. It's good knowin' he's out there. The Dude. Takin' 'er easy for all us sinners. Shoosh. I sure hope he makes the finals." I am sure hoping that someone comes out of this election that can "make the finals" and give our country a victory. Cause we need a Leader and its not the dude in control right now.

  5. It is important to have some understanding of US History, in order to have some perspective on the Jon Stewart rally. Just before WWII, it was illegal to participate in a mass rally or a "march on Washington" and federal marshals would arrest anyone attempting to do so. After this practice was legalized, there have been many such rallies, covering almost every political and social issue that can be imagined. So, this rally has a great deal of precedent, and there is no need to get all that worried about it, no matter what one's political viewpoint happen to be. This rally was all very normal, and it will just be added to a very long list of event past and likely many more to come. In the end, no harm was done.

  6. Has anyone noticed how pathetic our media has become? I mean, taking down the government in humor has been done for millions of years (or longer probably ;-)) but our actual journalists have become so polarized that there's practically no news anymore. The two biggest leaders now in this country are both entertainers: Jon Stewart and Glenn Beck. Can you believe how far we've sunk? When 90% of the media has been proven time and again to be colluding with the party in power to spin or just plain make up stories and the other side has to swing so far to the right as to be practically unbelievable themselves, it's almost impossible to find the truth.
    But let me tell you one thing, the truth was definitely nowhere near the sanity/fear rally. Jon Stewart (whom I've been a big fan of for years) did an admirable job of trying to ground everything and that speech was well done (though 90% of the jokes were flat at best), but the demographic he's addressing don't get anything but the flat jokes for the most part. They've been watching the other media for too long.
    And to group the TEA Party in with the big government of the Democrats and Republicans shows a distinct lack of understanding of the political climate... Colbert has become a mockery of himself and Stewart is pulling away from his stated goal for the first 5 years or so of NOT being anything close to a journalist. He didn't want to be one. If he's a leader, then this country is dead.

    But I think we do have some who will show up this election cycle and that will hopefully wake up more people for the next cycle. There are still leaders around, but most of them are NOT in Washington DC (including most of our military flag officers) nor in most of the state houses. There are a few governors and I think we'll have to ferret out the others. Keep your eyes open!