Jon Stewart reports his fake news on the Colbert Report and almost calls conservatives c**ts, until Stephen’s timely interruption. Was this out of line?
There are so many things that make this election season one without precedent. Why, then, has a faction of late-night punditworld responded with a reversion? Earlier this week, Stephen Colbert resurrected his satirical “Stephen Colbert” character, and then, last night, he invited the retired Jon Stewart to take over his Late Night desk for a classic 10-minute Daily Show rant. The biggest shock: The routines have felt vital and fresh, not mere nostalgia bait or retreads.
The reason for the throwback to golden-years Comedy Central fake news probably lies in politics itself. Stewart’s and Colbert’s original heydays were during the George W. Bush era; their entire personas are based not on indiscriminately satirizing the entire world’s absurdities but rather the particular absurdities of America’s right wing. Under Obama, that meant a certain amount of punching down. Donald Trump’s Republican National Convention, though, offered an even more unvarnished display of popular conservative thinking, attitudes, opinions, and bluster to hold America’s attention than, well, the last RNC. Colbert’s retitled program this week conveyed his glee at the prospect: “The 2016 Trumpublican Donational Conventrump Starring Donald Trump as the Republican Party* *May Contain Traces of Republican.” (His comparatively deflated DNC title: “The 2016 Democratic National Convincing, A Technically Historic Event: Death. Taxes. Hillary.”)
Stewart’s segment last night reminded of a lot of his virtues, and the most overlooked of them might be his ability to puncture ideological bubbles on both sides of the spectrum. His great muse, Fox News, is such an echo chamber for opinions that it led to “epistemic closure” becoming a buzz phrase to describe Republicans. But watching him take down Sean Hannity’s hypocrisies about Trump and Obama made me think about my own epistemic closure: When was the last time the average liberal-ish casual news consumer even had to remember Sean Hannity existed? Roger Ailes’s downfall is a reminder that Fox News has kept chugging along after Stewart left the air, and neither Trevor Noah, Samantha Bee, John Oliver, nor Seth Meyers have subjected the network to the same prolonged scrutiny that he did—which means a certain of America is simply less informed about what another segment of America is thinking about.