Jon Stewart’s Preachy, Unfunny Legacy


Rachel DiCarlo Currie wrote something for Acculturated titled “What the Late-Night Lefties Get Wrong“, which I thought worth sharing.

In short she argues that comedy on late-night TV has suffered because comedy itself has taken the back seat to politics when they “destroy” people.

Former Daily Show host Jon Stewart was the original “destroyer,” as National Review’s Kevin Williamson discussed in a brilliant 2014 piece. Today, the chief “destroyers” include Samantha Bee, John Oliver, Stephen Colbert, Seth Meyers, and Trevor Noah—all of whom, save Meyers, are either Daily Show alumni or, in Noah’s case, Stewart’s replacement on the Comedy Central show.

Judging by internet headlines, Bee has used her TBS program, Full Frontal, to “destroy” Vice President Mike Pence, White House adviser Kellyanne Conway, House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Republicans, Ohio Governor John Kasich, Maine Governor Paul LePage, former North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory, Tennessee state lawmaker SheilaButt, the so-called alt-right movement, and NBC.

And that was just in the show’s first year!

What to make of all this “destruction”? For one thing, it tends to be highly subjective. If you don’t subscribe to the progressive worldview, you probably will not agree that Samantha Bee “destroyed” Kellyanne Conway, or that John Oliver “destroyed” charter schools, or that Trevor Noah “destroyed” Tomi Lahren.

To take just one of those examples: Following Oliver’s anti–charter schools diatribe, Nick Gillespie of Reason noted that the British comic had spouted a number of misconceptions about charters, while failing to mention just how much they have helped poor, minority students in cities across the country. Joy Pullmann of The Federalist made a similar point, reminding us that the problems afflicting charter schools must be compared with the much-larger problems afflicting America’s traditional public schools—a comparison that Oliver left out of his anti-charter jeremiad.

In other words, the segment offered a hopelessly slanted and misleading bit of policy analysis. Did it work as comedy? If you already had a negative opinion of charters, and if you appreciate cheap barbs in service of cheap propaganda, then maybe it did. For everyone else, the “jokes” (such as they were) probably sounded like lame additions to an unconvincing polemic. That’s certainly how they sounded to me.

This gets to a broader issue with John Oliver–style comedy: The humor tends to be almost entirely contingent on one’s political or ideological affinities.

Consider Samantha Bee’s January 18th segment on White House counselor Kellyanne Conway. While there are legitimate criticisms to make of Conway—especially when she does something foolish, such as publicly endorse Ivanka Trump’s product line—there is nothing particularly funny about calling her “the soulless, Machiavellian despot America deserves,” or declaring that she “doesn’t believe anything in her heart” and “will say literally anything.” If you already hated Conway and/or Trump, perhaps those lines gave you a chuckle. Likewise, if you are a staunch supporter of abortion rights, you may have enjoyed watching Bee mock Conway for being pro-life. Yet in each case, it was politics, rather than genuine comedy, that drove the laughs. If you oppose abortion and take a more favorable view of Conway and/or Trump, chances are you found Bee’s attack to be shrill and tedious.

She also seems to conclude that the method of comedy has replaced any semblance of a persuasive argument:

In many ways, Bee epitomizes the culture of contemporary progressivism. It’s a culture that too often confuses snark with wit and sneering with reasoning—a culture that values a good “takedown” more than a good argument. Rather than ramp up the derision now that Trump is sitting in the Oval Office, Bee might want to ponder a question that Mark Steyn asked a week after the November election: “If elite condescension failed to deny him the presidency, is it likely to be any more effective now that he is the president?”

I presume just about anyone who leans even vaguely to the right knows and understands this as well as finds it as insufferable as I do even though I may never consider myself a conservative.

I’m not unaware of the need to laugh at whatever you find ridiculous, even if it gets you banned from Twitter because it doesn’t come from the “correct” political stance.

A woman (from what I’ve been able to gather) who draws comics under the name (He He) Silly Comics, for example, was permanently suspended from Twitter for violating rules governing “targeted abuse”:


No one — not even she — seems to know exactly who she “targeted”, nor what she did exactly to warrant such sanction, but she’d only been publishing her comics since Jan. 20 — she has since migrated to the Twitter competitor, Gab.

Whatever the real reason, you could probably work out why the progressive-left overlords at Twitter gave her the boot:

YouTuber Bearing provides context on the “pregnant people” comic.

I used to laugh with Jon Stewart back when I resisted the stuffy conservatism of the Moral Majority types who whinged that Mortal Kombat and Doom would turn myself and my generation into mindless killers.

Now left-wing SJWs insist that video games are “problematic” products of the “oppressive, white, capitalist cisheteropatriarchy” and should be contorted into high-handed, ham-fisted vehicles for far-left politics:

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Bonnie Ruberg @ GDC 2017

I’m just including Jim (FKA Internet Aristocrat, AKA Mister Metokur) on general comedic principle:
If anything, it shows that the counterculture is arguably on the right now, when left-wing political comedy and culture so thoroughly permeates mainstream, establishment media and academia that the powers that be felt the need to disappear or destroy anyone who jokes from the other direction.

Currie also mentions Stephen Colbert’s own reflection on the toxic state of American politics, when Trump’s victory was increasingly evident on the evening of Nov. 8:

So how did our politics get so poisonous? I think it’s ’cause we overdosed, especially this year. We drank too much of the poison. You take a little bit of it so you can hate the other side. And it tastes kinda good. And you like how it feels. And there’s a gentle high to the condemnation, right? And you know you’re right, right? You know you’re right.

Colbert has since jettisoned such wisdom to join the collective campaign to take down the Trump administration by any means necessary.

I’ve come to a point at which I now accept that Jon Stewart, and by extension Colbert, Bee, John Oliver, Noah and others did enormous damage to the United States with his legacy of poisoning political discourse to dangerous extremes in part by fomenting an unearned sense of moral superiority and epistemic self-certitude as opposed to encouraging any kind of thoughtfulness from within or constructive discourse with those who disagree with them.

The ability to joke and laugh about the issues of the day is important no matter where in politics you call home.

But just as left-wing comedy has degenerated into little more than snarky but vapid political rants buoyed by institutional entrenchment and intellectually atrophied by preaching to the choir for too long, I hope right-wing comedy remains sharp, constantly challenging the status quo from the bottom up without also degenerating into a substitute for a persuasive argument the same way the left has.

(H/T to Nick DiPaolo for the heads up to the on his Feb. 22 podcast. You can subscribe to his show at ConnectPal. Free versions are published Mondays on iTunes.)

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