Does Jon Stewart Still Want to Be Funny?

In the six years since he left The Every day Present, Jon Stewart has made more appearances than anybody might have predicted on the community he as soon as blamed for all of America’s ills, Fox Information. As an advocate for causes just like the well being advantages of 9/11 first responders and veterans uncovered to burn pits, he’s always on-message, remarkably disciplined, and virtually by no means humorous.

So, as he equipped for what he has insisted is not a “comeback” on Apple TV+, the massive query is which Stewart viewers can be getting. The hilariously scathing comic who spent a decade and a half “eviscerating” his political adversaries with jokes? Or the sensible elder statesman who would quite discover widespread floor with ideological opponents for the higher good?

The titles of the primary two episodes of his new present—“Warfare” and “Freedom”—is likely to be the primary clue.

Instantly, viewers are thrust right into a lethal critical writers’ room dialog about what America owes its service women and men who’re sick on account of overseas conflicts. We’re behind the scenes as Stewart makes his pitch to the notably numerous room, most of whom have “by no means labored on a comedy present,” as showrunner and former CBS Night Information producer Brinda Adhikari defined just lately.

After an opening-credits sequence that cheekily runs via some alternate titles—“The Cash Seize with Jon Stewart” stands out—the precise title is unveiled: The Drawback With Jon Stewart. The double-meaning is little question intentional and divulges a knowingness on his half concerning the problem of constructing on a legacy that has bred equally formidable “comedy” reveals like John Oliver’s Final Week Tonight, Samantha Bee’s Full Frontal, and Hasan Minhaj’s Patriot Act.

There he’s, sitting behind a desk as soon as once more. A uniform of grey stubble and bomber jacket-over-T-shirt have changed the clean-shaven, suited news-anchor look. When his first “joke” receives a clumsy silence from a small, COVID-friendly viewers, Stewart smiles and cracks, “I suppose that solutions whether or not the present can be humorous or not.”

After a number of extra self-deprecating digs at his grizzled look, Stewart “eases in” along with his first “bipartisan and non-controversial” matter: veterans. As he pioneered on his Every day Present, Stewart makes use of tight information clip montages to make his level about how America claims to “assist the troops” with out really delivering on that promise.

“Sure, we love our vets,” he says. “However you already know the outdated saying: In case you love somebody, allow them to go… fuck themselves.” That punchline is met with what can solely be described as a tragic chuckle.

Stewart’s single-topic format owes greater than slightly to the bespectacled Brit who was as soon as seen as his pure successor on The Every day Present earlier than Trevor Noah took the reins. However whereas Oliver makes use of fast-paced fury on his weekly HBO present to make seemingly unfunny points like jail reform or the opioid disaster come alive, Stewart’s extra deliberate and honest model is a a lot larger ask for viewers. It’s no shock that the premiere doesn’t get any funnier when Stewart spends his second section chatting with a gaggle of veterans who’ve suffered the implications of inhaling burn pit fumes.

Issues noticeably choose up when Stewart sits down with President Biden’s Secretary of Veteran Affairs Denis McDonough, evoking a few of his hardest and most substantive interviews from the Every day Present days. At one level, he goads McDonough into admitting, “I don’t give a shit what you assume,” earlier than including, “I care what the veterans assume.” The truth that it’s not punctuated by outbursts of righteous viewers applause makes the dialog each much less viscerally thrilling however probably extra consequential. Let’s hope he will get extra probabilities to face off with larger political villains.

The “outdated” Stewart of The Every day Present comes via a bit extra within the collection’ second episode when he takes on the “freedom isn’t free” crowd, who refuse to put on masks or get vaccinated whereas on the similar time evaluating affordable COVID restrictions to the Holocaust.

This results in a genuinely humorous section known as “What’s! Extra! Hitler!” during which the host argues that the virus itself is far more just like the Nazi dictator than the strategies to cease it are. “Hitler had super territorial ambition. COVID is fucking all over the place!” Stewart jokes. “Masks and vaccines have barely made it to Florida. Level, COVID.”

From there, comedy takes a backseat as soon as once more for a roundtable dialogue with activists and former political prisoners, together with the “Egyptian Jon Stewart,” Bassem Youssef. At instances, all of it begins to really feel extra like one thing you would possibly see at The New Yorker Competition as opposed to what’s ostensibly a political comedy present.

When his first “joke” receives a clumsy silence from a small, COVID-friendly viewers, Stewart smiles and cracks, “I suppose that solutions whether or not the present can be humorous or not.”

When the brand new collection’ identify was revealed earlier this 12 months, Every day Present alum Wyatt Cenac pointedly called out Stewart for appropriating each the title and idea of his canceled HBO present Drawback Areas. However the irony is that each reveals battle in their very own methods to seek out the steadiness between deadly-serious points and the necessity to ship laughs. Seems it’s not as simple as John Oliver and his 15 Emmys make it look.

The premiere episode ends with one more writers’ room outtake during which Stewart frets that it’s “gonna be a fucking nightmare” when he subsequent reveals up on the Comedy Cellar desk in New York as a result of his comic mates will make enjoyable of him by saying, “Oh look, Mom Teresa simply got here in.” It’s a respectable concern.

What made Stewart such a sensation on The Every day Present was his distinctive potential to mine laborious laughs out of more and more darkish information cycles. Now that his many disciples are doing their very own variations of that trick throughout community, cable and streaming TV, the bar has been raised and you’ll really feel Stewart straining to achieve over it in these first couple of episodes.

In a 2008 interview, Tina Fey was requested if she prefers applause or laughter. “Laughter. You may immediate applause with an indication,” she replied. Noting that her pal Seth Meyers coined the time period “clapter,” which is “if you do a political joke and folks go, ‘Woo-hoo,’” she added, “It means they type of approve however didn’t actually prefer it that a lot. You hear lots of that on [whispers] The Every day Present.”

Watching The Drawback With Jon Stewart, you get the impression that Stewart took that criticism to coronary heart, however maybe realized the mistaken lesson. He’s now not going for applause strains, however he’s too usually leaving the humor out altogether. There are a handful of moments when he reminds us of his O.G. standing within the style he kind of created. If he can keep each related and—simply as importantly—humorous, he simply may need a must-watch present on his palms once more.

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