What happened to Jon Stewart?
The liberal comic retired from his “Daily Show” perch in 2015, spawning tributes from across the media landscape. He changed the face of late night TV, they cried, and they were right.
For better and much worse.
Last year, a very different Stewart announced his return to the arena he once dominated. Apple TV+’s “The Problem with Jon Stewart” let him revisit the news cycle, but this time the liberal comic left any sense of balance behind.
He moved to the Left of Sen. Bernie Sanders, embracing woke ideology in ways that shocked former admirers … like Andrew Sullivan.
The right-leaning journalist appeared on his show late last month, and he found himself under withering attack from Stewart and his far-left panelists. It was three-against-one, not including Stewart’s woke audience.
The writer’s crime? Disagreeing with Stewart’s allegation that America is a white supremacist nation.
How did Stewart, reliably liberal but typically sober in his approach, become so aggressively woke? It’s not as if he evolved slowly over time, taking a decade or more to recalibrate his positions.
One can point to an early attack on Stewart’s legacy as the start of his evolution.
The woke mob, which will “resurface” the past to attack people in the present, deemed his “Daily Show” writers room insufficiently diverse. And Stewart, rather than defend his team or their work, groveled for forgiveness.
That must have stung, but it’s more likely another moment left a palpable scar on his psyche.
The 2020 comedy, written and directed by Stewart, could have solidified his auteur pivot. He wouldn’t be the first comedian to think a career in film trumped just about anything Hollywood could offer. And his initial dip into directing suggested he made the right choice to leave “The Daily Show” behind.
His 2014 directorial debut, “Rosewater,” earned warm notices but little awards season buzz. Not bad for a newbie, and it suggested he had a bright future behind the camera.
His follow-up project tried to capture the current political moment, and it did so by smiting both sides of the aisle … with one massive exception.
“Irresistible” followed a calculating campaign guru (Steve Carell) tasked with managing a small-town election. The satire skewered politics as usual, Beltway cynicism and more. Reactions to the film, though, must have shocked Stewart.
Critics pounced as if it were a Michael Bay movie starring Adam Sandler. Liberals didn’t want a “fair and balanced” Stewart. They craved the guy who “destroyed” the Right from his Comedy Central perch.
Let’s start with the film’s 40 percent “rotten” rating. Drill down into the reviews, though, and the anger against Stewart’s moderate approach is palpable.
The far-Left Daily Beast wanted a red meat movie to impact the 2020 election campaign, and it came away disappointed.
With the 2020 election a few short months away, that “surprise” turn of events comes across as a calculated attempt to thread the needle between pleasing and alienating Trump and Biden supporters, who are mocked in an equally supercilious manner. But it makes Irresistible a weak and humorless plea for getting money out of politics.
Pajiba went nuclear on the film and Stewart’s approach.
It’s cowardly to make a film lampooning Democrats as out of touch rather than Republicans as unquestionably evil, but this is what “centrism” is these days, and that’s the “both sides” ideology that Stewart espoused back during his days on The Daily Show, and that’s the shit that doesn’t fly anymore.
Vanity Fair’s review all but demanded Stewart drop his “Daily Show” brand.
It’s nothing The Daily Show, under Stewart’s leadership, didn’t already cover. Which is a little alarming in 2020.
Stewart noticed. He saw the current Democratic landscape, where radicals like “The Squad” ran unchecked and his peers treated “free speech” like a cultural plague. His recent plea for sanity, questioning the government-approved line on COVID-19’s origin, also got pummeled by his peers.
“I guess I was a little surprised at the pushback.”
The result? “The Problem with Jon Stewart.”
One of Sullivan’s best critiques of his Stewart experience came with the episode in question’s title.
“The Problem with White People.”
Sullivan said he wouldn’t have agreed to do the show if he knew the name of the installment. He also wouldn’t appear on any show dubbed, “The problem with Jews” (or any other group).
That didn’t bother Stewart, at least not the 2022 model. Like Tina Fey and Jimmy Fallon, Stewart has been re-educated to be an “ally,” to adopt woke polemics as his new playbook.
Whether he means it or not is another story. Fear can make people do or say just about anything.