Tagged: Jon Stewart

John Ostrander: Our Lonely Nation Turns Its Eyes To You

Jon Stewart The Late Show

The Republican National Convention Circus came to town last week and they made the big clown their ringmaster.

As you might guess, I am not a supporter of Donald Trump. Evidently neither is Senator Ted Cruz, who declined to get behind the party’s nominee during a nationally televised prime time speech at the Republican National Convention. That was interesting.

Jon Stewart and Stephen ColbertComicMix is about pop culture and you certainly can examine the RNC from that perspective. It was entertaining, in a sick way, and had more than a few surprises. It was like a Big League version of a reality show… and Trump knows about reality shows, believe me.

However, I think that the best thing coming out of the RNC was the return of Jon Stewart. He appeared at least twice on his old buddy Stephen Colbert’s The Late Show (I’m writing this before Friday night’s show; he may have shown up yet again) and it was a pleasure to see him.

Stewart was the host on The Daily Show between 1999 and 2015. The Daily Show is the mock news half hour that became the source of news for many people, and Stewart became the jester version of Walter Cronkite. He was a comedian and a critic employing commentary and satire and jokes. Often he was just silly but he also made some very solid points when he chose to do so. Underneath it all, there is a very intelligent, well read mind and a real sense of moral outrage.

I was not happy when Stewart announced his stepping down from The Daily Show in 2015. “What? With the 2016 elections just around the corner. Say it ain’t so, Jon! We need you!” His successor, Trevor Noah, has done a fine job but, damnit, I wanted Jon Stewart!

This week I got him or at least a taste of him. He and Stephen Colbert are great buddies and Stewart is an executive producer of The Late Show. Colbert says Stewart is not just a name in the credits but an active participant. In the first segment, Colbert knocks on a cabin door out in the woods where Stewart has supposedly gone into seclusion. He is not aware that Trump is the GOP presidential nominee. It’s short and mostly an excuse for both men to do some spit takes.

On Thursday night, however, immediately after Trump’s acceptance speech at the RNC, Stewart not only returned but Colbert let him take over the host desk. He also let him go off not just on Trump but on Trump’s supporters, especially at Fox News, some of Stewart’s favorite targets in the old days.

It was a vintage Stewart rant. The man hasn’t lost a step, IMO, nor any of his outrage. And he knows his funny. It was classic Stewart delivery, too, and the return of his voice to TV. Aside from the scraggly beard and the t-shirt (adorned, for this segment, with a clip-on tie), the segment could have been Jon at The Daily Show. Colbert, aside from popping up once or twice, gave Stewart his head and it reminded me why I miss the guy and how much we need him now.

I have a feeling this won’t be the last Stewart appearance on The Late Show, at least between now and election day. I hope not. There are others filling the gap (especially Samantha Bee) but it’s not quite the same. I wants me some more Jon Stewart.

Man, do I miss that man.

John Ostrander: New Boys In Town

Trevor-2

Well, it’s been a few weeks since Stephen Colbert assumed command of The Late Show and Trevor Noah has taken the reins of The Daily Show. In both cases the hosts are taking over from prior hosts who had long tenure at their respective shows (David Letterman and Jon Stewart). The new boys have been there long enough now to form some opinions.  Admittedly, they’re just my opinions but this is my column.

I want to start with The Daily Show and Trevor Noah. To be honest, this was the one that was of greater concern to me because I really loved watching Jon Stewart. I felt that he (and the show) had an important role on television. It was very funny and had a real point of view and delighted in deflating personalities and kicking other networks and other media up the butt when needed (and it has been an ever increasing need over the past few years). Jon Stewart had a keen eye and a well developed sense of outrage to go with his highly developed sense of comedy.

Could Trevor Noah compete? Could he fill those shoes? Would The Daily Show still be a must-see show for me?

Trevor Noah, for those of you who don’t know, is a South African of mixed race parentage. In fact, at the time when Noah was born in 1984, apartheid held mixed race marriages to be a crime. He’s been an actor as well as a comedian. He joined The Daily Show in December of 2014 and was there only a few months when it was announced he would be Jon Stewart’s successor.

So – how’s he doing?

Very well, I think. He is easy and relaxed. He has a knowing smile that he flashes frequently during the broadcasts. He is sharp, witty, and in command. He has shown himself to be adept at interviews which account for at least a third of each show. He is also skilled at playing the straight man for the group of loonies that make up The Daily Show’s corps of correspondents. That’s a significant trick and one that Jon Stewart was very good at playing.

Is the show different? Somewhat, but it still feels like The Daily Show I knew and loved. For me, it’s still something I want to watch.

Stephen Colbert also used to be on Comedy Central as the star of The Colbert Report, a spin-off from The Daily Show. (He had been a correspondent with Jon Stewart.) The Colbert Report was even more satirical with Colbert playing a version of himself that parodied right wing commentators such as Bill O’Reilly and those populating Fox News.

Sometimes he was so good at it that I couldn’t bear watching; a lot of right-wing commentators give me mental hives. The Bush White House evidently bought into the gag and made the mistake one year of inviting Colbert to host the 2006 White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner. That was a large mistake on their part. Using his TV persona, Colbert blistered both President Bush (who was seated only a few feet away from him) and the media. The primary audience was not terribly amused but the tape of it went viral and the rest of us liberal pinko commie types gasped, laughed, and cheered. It was a brave and bravura performance.

I’ll be honest. I always liked The Daily Show with Jon Stewart more than I liked The Colbert Report. I admired Colbert tremendously but The Daily Show made me laugh more. So I had questions when it was announced that Colbert would be taking over for Dave Letterman. The big question was – could he escape the shadow of his own Colbert Report persona?

I think he has and he hasn’t.

Some of the bits Colbert has done on The Late Show could have been done on The Colbert Report. Stephen still likes to grab the mike and sing, usually with his guests. He doesn’t have a bad voice but I don’t think he’s as good a singer as he evidently thinks he is.

When the show started, Colbert would come out dancing, doing high kicks and girly twirls which I found disconcerting. He’s stopped doing that now and that’s for the better. He was also his own opening announcer and the show now has someone else doing that job which I think is a better transition.

His first guest and his first interview was George Clooney who is usually a great guest. He’s very entertaining and can tell wonderful stories and you just point him in a direction and let him go. Colbert, however, was into doing some kind of schtick and it really hobbled Clooney. I’ve seen this continue off and on.

However, I think Colbert is evolving as an interviewer. He had Oprah Winfrey on last week and they got into a discussion of faith and belief.  I’ve noticed when he has guests on like that we see more of Colbert himself. He is evidently a man of deep belief and, with Winfrey, the interview became a conversation. He listened and responded, she listened and responded, and we got to listen in. I think that’s how interviews on these types of shows should be – conversations.

Every host on late night TV has their own persona and it’s a question of how comfortable we are with those personas. We need to at least feel we’re getting something genuine about the interviewer. I don’t always get that with Colbert but I think he’s relaxing more into his new role and we may see more of it.

He also has interesting segments I won’t see elsewhere. He often has young entrepreneurs on, people doing things that I never heard about before. I think they’re geared for a younger demographic and that’s okay. It’s a question that most late night TV will have to face – how do they attract the generation that is more likely to be on the Internet?

His musical segments are also varied. There’s been a few too many older musicians who have bad cases of old man’s voice where they sound like aging echoes of who they were and some up and coming people who I don’t know and find it hard to summon an interest. However, he gets the occasional interesting performer as well. For example, he paired Misty Copeland, the first African American prima ballerina for the American Ballet Theater who danced while master cellist Yo-Yo Ma played. That was sublime.

Another musical guest was Michelle Dorrance, a tap dancer who won a MacArthur Foundation genius grant. She gave Stephen a tap lesson (which was great) and then performed with the house band, Jean Baptiste and Stay Human (who are very good). That’s new, that’s different, and very interesting.

Any late night show needs to find a way to stand out from the others, make people want to stay up to see it while, at the same time, be what they want to watch just before they go to sleep. I think the more Colbert shows of himself and the further he gets away from his old persona, the better his show is going to be.

Right now, I think both he and Noah Trevor are doing good jobs. I like The Daily Show a little bit better, I admire The Late Show a little more and I’m interested in seeing what they will be like as the hosts get more settled in.

But I really need to get to bed earlier! Sighhhhhh.

John Ostrander: A Very Fond Farewell

Jon Stewart

It was a good show.

Jon Stewart ended his run on The Daily Show last week with an hour-plus long installment. It was a good episode and a good final episode. I’ve seen a few of these things – where a long time reporter or entertainer walks away, of their own volition, from their show. I saw Jack Paar (you kiddies go ahead and Google him or look him up on the Wikipedia) leave his weekly show, walking out through a series of spotlights cast on the floor. I saw beloved newscaster Walter Cronkite sign-off for the last time, telling us, “I’ll be away on assignment, and Dan Rather will be sitting in here for the next few years. Good night.” I saw Johnny Carson, the King of Late Night Television, leave The Tonight Show with his “very heartfelt good night.”

These kind of shows can be difficult to pull off. The episode can be too much, it can be too little, it can be awkward – as parodied brilliantly by Gary Shandling on The Larry Sanders Show. I thought Letterman’s exit from The Late Show was a little flat and Stephen Colbert’s exit from The Colbert Report somewhat over the top, even for him.

Stewart’s final show was entertaining, funny, surprising in places, and human. Basically, it was a very good episode of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. There were the tropes you expected and wanted to see such as the former “correspondents” coming back for one last gag, usually at Stewart’s expense. I didn’t even know who some of them were, that’s how far back it went.

One of the surprising sequences was the taped appearances of some of the folks Stewart has pilloried over the years, climaxing with Sen. John McCain’s “So long, jackass.” That sounded heartfelt to me. If you’re Jon Stewart and you’ve pissed off these people (and scores more) you’ve done your job.

What was both somewhat surprising and very human was Stewart’s final take to “Camera Three” where he used to give advice to some person or group. This last time it was to us, talking about “bullshit.” Basically, he was telling us how to pick up the slack once he left. His advice boiled down to: “If you smell something, say something.” That’s what he’d been doing, and doing well, during his tenure on The Daily Show. That’s what he was urging us to do.

The show wound up with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band performing two songs live in the studio. The second was “Born To Run.” It was both a surprise and fitting – one New Jersey icon saluting another.

And then it was done.

I’m really going to miss Jon Stewart. Yes, his opinions mostly coincide with mine, although not on pizza. His denigration of Chicago-style pizza was a rare blot on his record. I know others prefer Steven Colbert or Bill Maher or John Oliver but Stewart made me laugh more, made me smile more, made me share his anger together at worthy targets. He was intelligent, witty, insightful and he wasn‘t afraid to make fun of himself as well as others. According to tributes I’ve read of him, he was generous to other talents, dedicated, and hard working.

In the end, he was tired. Why else would he leave with the 2016 elections coming up and the GOP offering up so many nice juicy easy-to-hit targets? He left while he was still on his game and I salute him for that.

I expect that, at some point, Jon Stewart will walk out on the public stage again. However, when Johnny Carson retired he said he would return in some format some day. He never did. I worry that Jon Stewart might do the same thing.

I’m sure the heir apparent to the Daily Show hot-seat, Trevor Noah, will do a fine job and I intend to tune in. He won’t replace Stewart; it’ll simply be a new show, Noah’s version of it. That’s how it should be. But he won’t be Stewart. Jon Stewart, over the years, became a friend, one who was articulate and funny and not afraid. You never have so many friends that you can afford to lose even one.

Damn, but I’m going to miss you, Jon Stewart.

 

Box Office Democracy: Rosewater

[[[Rosewater]]] is a movie that Jon Stewart basically had to make after The Daily Show played a major role in the imprisonments of Iranian journalist Maziar Bahari. It works really well as an apology and as an effort to further Bahari’s mission to increase the visibility of journalists who have become political prisoners. Unfortunately, it’s not a particularly good piece of filmmaking.

Stewart is quite green and it shows in almost every facet of the movie. The performances he gets from his actors aren’t quite up to the level of the material he’s trying to create. The movie lumbers along at times where they should move faster and speeds through moments I would love to see breathe more. It doesn’t feel like a student effort, that would be a bridge way too far, but it does feel like a movie by a director that’s learning as he goes.

(more…)

John Ostrander: Handicapping the Stewart Sweepstakes

jon stewartThe day after Jon Stewart announced he was leaving The Daily Show, he plaintively asked his audience, “Did I die?” Lots of people are bemoaning the fact that he’s going, myself included. His show has been the counterpoint to the bilge spewed by Faux News and he’s been wonderful at showing the absurdity in politics.

Yes, he and I share very similar viewpoints on most topics and, while I’ve seen him skewer the Left, he’s more likely to skewer the Right and that’s just fine by me. He’s a comedian doing a fake news show; he doesn’t have to be “fair and balanced.” He simply has to have a consistent point of view and express it with wit and humor. However telling the point, he needs to get a laugh. That’s what he does. It’s what he is supposed to do.

However, The Daily Show must go on. Craig Kilbourn sat in the same seat before Stewart and someone else will come after him. The trick for Comedy Central is to bring in someone who won’t alienate the current audience while making the show their own. They have to be the head Jester while at the same time be the straight man (or woman) for the group of loons that are or will be the “reporters” on the show. (How many of the current team will stay after Stewart leaves is beyond my guess.)

Lots of people online have been giving odds on this candidate or that one. Whoever wins the slot will have a tough job. Lots of people will not like whoever comes next because they simply won’t be Stewart. Any changes that are made will be suspect by some because, again, they’re not Stewart. I might become one of those people myself.

Let’s explore for a moment who won’t be replacing Stewart. At one time, it would have been Stephen Colbert but now he’s replacing Letterman. John Oliver replaced Stewart for three months while Stewart was taking a sabbatical and did a good job. However, he’s at HBO with a show of his own and I don’t think contractually he can come back even if he’s so inclined.

Will Comedy Central go with someone who is already on the show? Jason Jones has filled in for Stewart and was, I think, surprisingly successful. Partner him with his wife Samantha Bee and you could have a very interesting format and show. Both of them are fearless and shameless (especially Bee) but I don’t know if either of them are material for the anchor’s chair on a regular basis.

I think it’s very possible Comedy Central will pick someone who has had experience on SNL as the news anchor for Weekend Update. The most interesting name I’ve heard mentioned is Amy Poehler. Her own show, Parks and Recreation, has just wound up and she has the background and chops for the job. I know there’s a lot of pressure to have a woman or a minority take Stewart’s place; there’s no one else on late night who is like that.

Except one. Larry Wilmore who used to be The Daily Show’s “senior black correspondent” has taken over Colbert’s spot following Stewart as the host of The Nightly Show. Yes, he just began his run in January but Stewart isn’t leaving until July or maybe December (it hasn’t been yet determined). Wilmore has shown himself to be sharp, funny, quick witted, and a good interviewer. He’s a good host.

If Wilmore went to the The Daily Show, that leaves a vacancy on The Nightly Show but I think that slot would be easier to fill. Jason Jones and/or Samantha Bee would kill in that position. Or scrap the current show and bring on something else; doing a sports show with the same sensibilities as The Daily Show might work very well.

The longest shot to replace Jon Stewart would be… Jon Stewart. In this scenario, he comes to his senses and changes his mind about leaving. Yeah, I know – not going to happen. A guy can wish, can’t he?

 

Martha Thomases: Superhero Salespeople

Girls like superheroes. I can prove it, because a major media division has done the market research for me.

You can learn a lot about what people think of you by what they try to sell you. I don’t mean this personally. It’s not like some guy you meet at a conference who sizes you up and either offers you one of his room keys or life insurance, depending on his evaluation of your sex appeal.

No, I mean this on a more macro level. I mean the multi-billion dollar industry dedicated to discovering what you like and using that data to sell you crap.

For example, when I watch the network news in the evenings, I see a lot of ads for prescription medicines for diabetes, arthritis, and erectile dysfunction. From this, I understand that the advertisers think the people who watch the news are old, infirm, or both.

This is in stark contrast to the ads on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, where the ads are all new movies, new video games, beer and Doritos. This is where Millennials get their news.

If I have Maury Povich on while I do my morning chores, I see ads for payday loans, attorneys who specialize in personal injury lawsuits, and for-profit colleges that offer two-year (or less) degrees. From this, I understand that the advertisers think I am an unemployed idiot.

When we get into prime-time television on the major networks, the stakes are higher. The audiences are larger, and the advertising rates more expensive. The networks don’t compete to attract fringe audiences. They want the mainstream.

Not just mainstream, but young, unattached, 18 – 29 mainstream. People who are just starting their independent lives … and forming their brand allegiances.

And to television networks, mainstream means both men and women. Some shows may skew more male or more female, and we can tell which is which by the advertising on the program. We see beer and Doritos when the target is the bros. We see make-up and fashion when the target is female.

When I watch the current crop of shows based on superhero comics – Arrow, The Flash, Gotham, Constantine, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – I see a lot of Revlon commercials.

Doesn’t the conventional wisdom maintain that women don’t like superheroes? Why are women watching these shows?

I have theories, none of which I can prove without procuring the services of expensive market research firms. However, in the absence of evidence, here is what I think:

  • These shows feature a variety of attractive young people, many of whom are in great shape but none of whom are so over-endowed that we wonder how they can stand up. I mean that for the actors as well as the actresses. They are better-looking versions of people the audience might know in their real lives.
  • A substantial number of the writing teams include women. I don’t have the percentages, but, while I would guess it to be less than half, I think it’s more than a third. This means that there are women creating dialogue that, to them, sounds like something a woman would say if she found herself in a situation with, maybe, Valkyries.
  • The emphasis is on action, not violence. This might seem like hair-splitting (but watch long enough and there will be a commercial for a shampoo that will fix that), but there is surprisingly little gore on most of these shows. There are fights, but they aren’t bloody. Major characters rarely get killed, and not for the sole purpose of motivating the male hero. There aren’t a lot of women in refrigerators.
  • The female cast members often have their own storylines that are not dependent on the male cast members to be interesting. This is most true on S.H.I.E.L.D. and absolutely true on the spin-off mini-series, Agent Carter, least true of Constantine (at least so far), but even then it is more true than it is in the current version of the comic on which it is based.

None of these traits seems to be turning off male viewers. If it does, the advertisers have decided that the women in the audience will spend enough money to be worth the loss.

I hope that the success of these shows encourages editors to hire more women to create mainstream comics. I hope the success of these shows encourages publishers to offer comics that will appeal more to female readers.

But mostly, I want to see a Felicity Smoak / Melinda May team-up.

 

Dennis O’Neil: Dirty Words, Done Dirt Cheap

Somewhere or other I read, or maybe heard in a lecture, that the area of your brain that activates when you use a naughty word is different that the part that activates when you aren’t being a pottymouth. Interesting, because it means that somewhere, some time, back in the murky eons those words that you never heard coming from a pulpit had some survival value. If they didn’t, evolution (Evolution?) wouldn’t have bequeathed to them their own little piece of cerebral real estate.

I wonder if they still own it.

Because there’s nothing special about such words, not any more. Once, in the Catholic days of my youth, I heard those words only on what we might deem special occasions, usually when someone was seriously pissed off. (“Pissed off” was, I think, considered more vulgar than sinful, but still. you wouldn’t say it at Thanksgiving dinner.) I heard them very little until I joined the Navy and then I probably heard them pretty often and after my discharge, not so much again, and now…

Holy cow! All the time! The movies. The television programs! The most common usage is what when we were genteel we might have called “the F word.” Often, on basic cable and broadcast shows, it’s bleeped and I wonder why, say, Jon Stewart uses it so often knowing that we won’t actually hear it but we’ll know what it is anyway. He doesn’t need it to get his points across, surely, and we already know that he’s sophisticated and worldly because, you know, he’s a television star. (I also consider him to be a national treasure, but that’s a whole other discussion.)

The F word was pretty shocking in some contexts, but it wasn’t the biggie. That distinction, the young me might have claimed, belongs to the GD word because that hair curler, is specifically forbidden by nothing less than the 10 Commandments themselves. Surely you haven’t forgotten “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain”?

The GD word is sprinkled throughout J,D, Salinger’s book The Catcher in the Rye which is taught in middle schools and so I guess it’s okay with most folks.

It, and the F word, have become everyday language and so I once more wonder if they set off cerebral alarms and if they don’t, have we lost something? We must have taboos for a reason. It’s not the words themselves we’re concerned with – they are, after all, just words – but the very existence of taboos. Get rid of them and maybe we’ll also be getting rid of something we don’t know that we need.

And wouldn’t that be fucked up!

 

John Ostrander: The Chicago Pizza Way

Ostrander Art 131117Ordinarily, I’m a big fan of Jon Stewart and The Daily Show. However, on last Wednesday’s night show, he took almost the whole second segment to castigate deep dish pizza, also known as Chicago-style pizza or just Chicago pizza. The whole flippin’ middle segment.

I’m from Chicago.

I love Chicago pizza.

I’d like to refer Mr. Stewart to Sean Connery’s speech in the Untouchables where he talks about “the Chicago Way.

I think it’s time to get all Rahm Emanuel on your ass, Mr. Stewart.

The main component of New York pizza is grease. There is more grease on a single slice of New York pizza than a school of teen-agers with severe acne who have just eaten New York pizza. New Yorkers act as if grease was one of the basic food groups. There is enough grease in a NY pizza to fuel Willie Nelson’s biodiesel tour bus twice around the country. There is so much grease on a slice of New York pizza that it will pass through your intestine without stopping. In Chicago, if you poop your pants it’s referred to it as laying a NY pizza.

BOOM!

The proper way to eat a slice of NY pizza is to fold it in half lengthwise. That way you don’t have to look at it. It’s also the only way to keep the cheese and sauce or whatever else they want to throw on it from sliding right off the slice onto your shoes. Hold it folded in one hand and hold your nose with the other and slide it into your mouth. Ah, that’s a good New York pizza!

BOOM!

Every place that sells pizza in New York City has to be named Ray’s – Original Ray’s, Famous Ray’s, Original Famous Ray’s. Famous Original Ray’s. Spam Spam Original Ray Ray’s and Spam, and on and on. It doesn’t make a bit of difference – they all taste the same.

You can make NY pizza at home. It’s easy. Get an unsalted cracker, squirt some ketchup on it, add some toe cheese, warm it under your armpit, and there ya go.

BOOM!

Chicago pizza you sit and eat and it’s a meal. One pizza can feed a family. It’s food. NY pizza is a lubricant.

and

Not content with defaming Chicago pizza, Stewart then went after Chicago hot dogs. Seriously? Those Anthony Weiners they serve from a sidewalk vendor’s cart? First, they dredge the East River, then put the dogs in that for three days, and then add a lukewarm stale bun, something yellow that’s vaguely like mustard, and a healthy dose of salmonella. The only place you should eat hot dogs in NYC is at Nathan’s and then only at the original stand at Coney Island and even that doesn’t quite stand up to a Chicago dog and you know why? Vienna Hot Dogs. The best places in Chicago use Vienna Hot Dogs with natural casings. Nothing else even begins to compare. Certainly not a NY alleged hot dog,

One area I think we can both agree. California so-called pizza is an abomination. Pineapple on a pizza? Really? No red sauce of any kind? Why even bother? So. how about a truce, Jon Stewart? I’ll hold down a California pizza lover and you can kick ‘em.

BOOM!

MONDAY MORNING: Mindy Newell

TUESDAY MORNING: Emily S. Whitten

 

Dennis O’Neil: Daily Devotion

O'Neil Art 131010Pretty day outside, if you like bleak. Mist, rain, a world of grey. October in the northeast. Bleak.

Not much better inside. It’s becoming a chore to watch some of my favorite television programs. The other night, after sitting through about 10 minutes of The Daily Show, I walked out of the room. I deeply admire Jon Stewart: he’s a national jester and as such, one of our treasures. Four nights a week, he manages to inform and entertain simultaneously, and he does this nifty trick consistently, show after show. He was riffing on the shutdown of the national government and suddenly I didn’t want to hear about it anymore, not even when Jon Stewart was the messenger and the message was leavened with comedy. To hear yet again of the antics of that herd of egotistical narcissists who are our elected leaders – enough! Let them take the nation to hell. I’ll just shut my eyes and cover my ears and try not to breathe in the dust.

Remember the words of Thomas Jefferson: “Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice can not sleep for ever.”

I’m not blaming the politicians. They are what they have to be. In a system that values greed above all else, in which congressmen, who are charged with regulating an enormous and ever increasingly complex commonwealth must spend 30 hours a week on the phone begging for money instead of learning what they should know, and in getting what they beg for place themselves in indentured servitude to the check writers, who were taught that education is passing tests, whose egos might need to be damaged before they can even aspire to the jobs they hold, and who have begun to behave like history’s great mischief makers, zealots who are incapable of questioning their zealotry, who are unable to identify with human suffering other than their own…yeah, they are more to be pitied than hated. But such creatures can foster ruination, pitiable or not.

There’s nothing I can do about the Washington mob that’s shaping our collective destiny. But please don’t ask me to share an elevator with any of them.

So I ducked an episode of The Daily Show. Then, the following evening, I got over my snit, stopped wishing that reality to be something other than what it is, and tuned in for my eleven o’clock Jon Stewart fix.

•     •     •     •     •

And now to answer a question you may or may not be asking: can’t we please, for the love of Pete, end on a cheerier note? Okay, how about a dose of…

RECOMMENDED READING: The DC Comics Guide to Creating Comics: Inside the Art of Visual Storytelling, by Carl Potts. There are a number of books like this currently available, including one I wrote. This one, I think, is the best.

FRIDAY: Martha Thomases

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman

 

John Ostrander on… The Substitute!

Ostrander Art 130811On June 10th of this year, Jon Stewart took leave of his job hosting The Daily Show on Comedy Central to go direct his first film, handing the hosting duties over to John Oliver, one of the show’s top “reporters.” This was a big deal to me – I’m a huge fan of the show but Oliver has never been my favorite performer on it. He’s been a little too over-the-top manic, playing at a character rather than being the character as predecessors like Ed Helms, Rob Corddry, Steve Carell and Stephen Colbert have done. Or Samantha Bee who comes off as a genuine lunatic (and I mean that as the highest compliment). I thought he was trying too hard to be funny rather than being funny.

Someone I would have picked over Oliver was Larry Wilmore – the dry and droll “Senior Black Correspondent.” I saw him doing a documentary about African-Americans and the Mormon Church in a Showtime special titled Race, Religion and Sex. His interviews were first-rate. I was somewhat disappointed they didn’t pick him to sub for Stewart.

I was also concerned that The Daily Show itself would suffer. Stewart has been so identified with it, rarely taking a night off even when obviously physically ill. There was simply no one else to do the job. Until now.

So, the summer wanes and Labor Day approaches and with it Stewart’s return to the desk of The Daily Show. How’s it gone without him?

In my view, surprisingly well. Oh, no question that I will be glad to see Stewart’s return but John Oliver has, overall, done a very good job. I get a better sense of Oliver as a person in his work as anchor for the show. He’s also been willing to play the straight man for the gang of comedic lunatics that comprise the show’s “reporters.” He’s been an adept interviewer, which is important because the interview sessions comprise about a third of the show. Stewart is still the better interviewer but Oliver is better than David Letterman. And he’s getting better.

An early criticism I had for Oliver’s anchorman duties was that he appeared to be imitating Stewart’s intonations and gestures and even posture. Understandable – you go with what works and you don’t want to lose the audience (I’ll bet that is one of Oliver’s recurring nightmares; that he loses the audience for Stewart). It’s gotten less as the summer has gone on, however.

My larger concern was the show itself. Stewart’s not just the anchorman for the series; he’s a writer and co-executive-producer for the show. He has set the tone for The Daily Show, I think, and that’s important. It’s not only a satire of news programs in general but of the news itself and how it’s covered. There’s a sense of real moral outrage running through the show that gives it the edge it shows. There’s a point of view that is consistently presented.

The show is biased and that’s fine; those who say it should be more balanced forget that this is actually a comedy show and not an actual news show. They proudly proclaim themselves a “fake news” show. However, in 2009 the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press said that 21% of people between 18 and 29 said that The Daily Show was their primary source for news. Stewart and producers of the show have discounted that and suggested those who used the show as their only news source would wind up horribly misinformed.

My concern was, what would the show look and sound like without Stewart, no matter who was in the anchorman’s chair? I’m happy to say it still has the same voice, the same values, the same moral outrage underlying it.

That bodes well for the show’s future. I’m glad Stewart is coming back but, let’s face it, at some point he will leave and not come back. He may want to direct some more (depending on how this first film goes), he may get offered a gig on a broadcast network late night show, he may just get tired and want to do something else. This summer has proven The Daily Show can go on without him.

It will also give him a viable substitute on the nights when he’s too ill to perform or needs to be elsewhere. That’s a good thing; it will help keep Stewart from burning out. Will the sub/heir apparent be John Oliver? It depends; Oliver’s gotten a lot more visibility and credibility as a result of this summer’s experiment. I‘d be surprised if he doesn’t get more offers as well.

So let’s call the experiment a success – John Oliver showed he can do the job and welcome back Jon Stewart. Just don’t go away again too soon, okay, fellah?

MONDAY MORNING: Mindy Newell

TUESDAY MORNING: Emily S. Whitten