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Jon Stewart's "moderate" humor

By A. M. Siriano
web posted May 9, 2005

Many right-wingers I know can't stomach Jon Stewart, and I don't blame them for that, but I am more than happy to proclaim that I think this guy is extremely funny. Recently the little giant from New York City descended upon my own po-dunk Columbus, Ohio, where he proved out his comic genius to a devoted audience. He was hilarious from start to finish and had me slapping my knee more than once, even at the bits that ran counter to my own religious and political worldview. The man is naturally funny, a rapid-fire wit, as evidenced by his reactions to the periodic shouters in the audience. He handled them all well, with the good-humored spontaneity and personal charm of a true master.

Admittedly, an hour-plus of being the only conservative (or so it seemed) in a packed house of liberals was a little disconcerting, but I wasn't about to let it bother me, at least not for the moment: I amply enjoyed the show and let his worst anti-right digs sail right past me. Jon Stewart has been proclaimed by some as not merely a comic genius, but a political one -- "bravely battling pomposity and misinformation," gushed Newsweek -- but really, his shtick is tried-and-true fare long perfected by other liberal comedians who came before him, and it goes something like this: "Bash yourself, bash the right, bash yourself again, find a little something to bash the left with, bash the right again, and a few more times, then yourself again, and all the while be sure to make your plea for moderation loud and clear ..."

It's a great gig if you can get it. George Carlin mastered this a long time ago, but without the added ingredient of self-deprecation, which is a must to please any post-modern audience. Everyone knew Carlin was a liberal, of course, but he presented himself as one who was too intelligent to be confined to a liberal box -- and so he was happy to take on stupidity wherever it reared its head. Stewart's act is hardly different, except that he is far less intelligent than Carlin, though he may be a faster wit. The game is "balance" -- thus after he braved the rather risky territory of the Schiavo case, letting all know that he sided with the silly "government shouldn't interfere" argument (as if the judicial branch doesn't qualify as "government"), he was sure to ask why scientists can't find a better way to let someone "die with dignity" than to "dry them out." (Interesting point, Jon -- to which the audience fell morosely quiet -- but what was your point after you just finished reducing the whole "tragic affair" -- your words -- to nothing more than a political game that deserves your derision? I wonder if the Schindler's would think you are funny ...)

Many conservatives I know have a hard time separating humor from ideology. I don't have this trouble, not much, anyway -- I just love my humor, I guess, and I'm willing to put up with a lot of nonsense for a laugh -- but what stays with me are rarely the jokes (few jokes ever do -- they are meant for the moment and then it's back to the real world). As I walked away from Stewart's show, the humor was soon replaced by a rather dark cloud that had me pondering the sheer stupidity of most of his remarks. All that talk about Stewart being a "cultural force," that hidden in his comic genius is true genius, that there can be found a lot of deep wisdom that is every bit as important as the words of statesmen, religious leaders and philosophers, suddenly was the only joke I could remember. Stewart derides this view of himself, but the reality is, the ardent crowd that I witnessed last night -- mostly college students mixed with upwardly-mobile middle class patrons, and a scattering of moonbats -- believe it whole-heartedly. At times the place resembled a tent meeting, with people barking out words of approval, throwing their hands up in glee when he slammed the "religious right," and extending their index fingers toward him as if to say, "Preach it, brother!"

Now don't get me wrong, no matter the shade of my cloudy mood: I really did enjoy the show! But the sad truth is, if you strip away the humor, and his "I'm a moderate" routine, you are left with the same old brainless and banal liberalism that doesn't know the meaning of "thinking things through."

I respect the ability of any man who can stand up in front of an audience for over an hour and be "on." I saw Glenn Beck pull this off not long ago with what appeared to be no script at all. Stewart's act was scripted (I had heard or read some of these jokes before), but he had no trouble whipping in and out of his fast, oft-driven lane to deal with a shouter. But unlike Beck, Stewart's points -- the points that supposedly make for "profound" political satire -- are the same simplistic notions one can find at any MoveOn.org rally. It's just parroting of the parroting of an idiot.

An example of this is Stewart's view of the gay marriage debate, which, like all liberals, he reduces to a trifle that is hardly worth our time, making fun of the right for getting their knickers in a knot over nothing. "You are what you are," he said, joking that a man's penis is a force that simply can't be controlled and alluding to the common but baseless belief that "gayness" is inherited. He ended that bit with the very serious pronouncement that "gayness isn't contagious," which, of course, is a remark commonly heard among liberals that ignores the obvious increase in the gay population ever since the Beat Generation decided to promote it as something other than depravity.

The fact of the matter is, all forms of depravity, whether hetero- or homosexually based, are always contagious -- in the sense that they are readily propagated from one generation to the next. And just as the parents of today are dealing with that propagation -- now rampant in our schools, where homosexuality is presented as an "option" rather than a problem that some kids have to deal with -- the parents of tomorrow will have to deal with worse issues, such as polygamy, perhaps with a hetero-homo twist, or orgiastic relationships that involve children, or human-animal "partnerships." If man can think it, man will do it, and when it becomes common, he never fails to demand the stamp of approval that can only come from a governmental body.

Jon Stewart made plenty of John Kerry jokes that were a riot, and none in that liberal crowd seemed to mind. I wondered why that was and came to this conclusion: They don't mind because everything he said about Kerry was true, and it was, at its core, what Rush Limbaugh was saying every day during the 2004 race to the finish: The Democrats picked the wrong guy. In hindsight, other than to keep getting therapy, there is nothing left for a liberal to do but laugh.

Now cut to Bush, who is the true object in Stewart's gun-sight -- one can always tell because the jokes quickly become based on half-truths instead of actual truth -- he portrayed Bush's moral determinism as a sort of good old boy, "don't give a s___" attitude. This was one of the funniest parts of the evening and had me rolling with laughter, but it was also an absurdity that made his adoring fans nod their heads in intense agreement. "Yes, yes!" they were shouting out, as if to say, "You hit the nail on the head with that assessment."

Well, not if one thinks beyond the funny. Such a belief requires no more thought than the charge of Bush's stupidity or Bush's Hitlerian recklessness. The rest of Stewart's comments on Bush were equally mindless. Stewart the fighter against "misinformation" used plenty of it to formulate jokes around WMD and the toppling of Saddam in order to perpetuate the belief that the invasion of Iraq was a pointless endeavor. The audience screamed its approval, especially when Stewart referred to the bombing of Baghdad as making "freedom holes," but apparently I was the only one who saw the irony of those holes: that the result has been actual freedom. (But if we would have just reasoned with Saddam, maybe those holes wouldn't have been necessary, right? Right ...)

Stewart ended his hilarious rant with the same heart-warming account of the weeks following 9/11 that I had read awhile ago when he gave a commencement address at William & Mary. It was more vulgar this time around and included a very sober Bush-slam that showed Stewart's level of simplistic ignorance:

"Don't worry, folks, try as he might to destroy this country, everything's going to be okay."

Very true, but more because Bush was at the helm when the world changed on September 11, 2001, and not someone like Bill Clinton, Al Gore, or John Kerry. Thankfully, our world hasn't changed so much that we can't go on enjoying ourselves, even to the tune of quick-witted dolts, always around to keep us laughing, at least for the moment.

This is A. M. Siriano's first contribution to Enter Stage Right. © A. M. Siriano

 

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