Here's the Problem with 'The Problem with Jon Stewart'

BY Alex HudsonPublished Sep 30, 2021

With The Daily Show, Jon Stewart introduced a brand of political rage-humour that John Oliver later perfected and social media absolutely ruined. American politics are way past the point of satire, and the blurred line between entertainment and news now feels dangerous and toxic, rather than like a playground for comedy.

So where does Jon Stewart fit into today's political media landscape? He wisely dials down the comedy on The Problem with Jon Stewart, but he sometimes struggles to replace it with anything else. The format is fairly similar to The Daily Show or Last Week Tonight, although the desk and clothes are a little more casual, and the live in-studio audience laughs less. The emphasis is on thorough research pieces rather than hot-take responses to whatever's in the news — although the comedy that remains often feels jarring, and doesn't quite match the tone of his more hard-hitting points.

The best moments deal with evergreen topics, rather than anything breaking. The first episode is simply called "War," and it deals with America's shamefully indifferent treatment of suffering veterans. Yes there are a couple of Jake Paul jabs, and Stewart makes some self-deprecating jokes about his own appearance — c'mon Jon, we can all see you're a handsome, 58-year-old silver fox — but the focus here is on grim information. The guests are witnesses and not celebs on a promotional cycle. It's a harrowing episode that's rarely funny.

The second episode available to reviewers is "Freedom," which grapples with the pandemic in a way that already feels out of date. With snarky jokes about anti-vaxxers, Stewart doesn't say much that you couldn't get from spending an hour scrolling on Twitter. He even makes fun of Gal Gadot's "Imagine" video; March 2020 called and it wants its joke back. The episode ends with a democracy-themed interview with notable figures from Egypt, Venezuela and the Philippines, which is far more insightful than the COVID lockdown talk. Egyptian comic Bassem Youssef delivers the show's funniest joke by far when talking about the January 6 insurrection: "When we have a coup in the Middle East, it works. You guys suck. Keep to what you do best: toppling democracies in other counties."

Stewart seems to realize that he can't simply repeat The Daily Show and expect the same results. The Problem with Jon Stewart is his promising, if inconsistent, pivot away from comedy and towards full-blown political commentary.

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