Correcting this is all easier said than done. As noted earlier, comedy has a difficult time dealing with nuance, and it can easily descend into straw men and caricatures. While I have focused in this article on “The Daily Show,” Stewart is by no means the worst offender—“The Colbert Report,” whose host takes on a caricatured right-wing persona, is even more problematic. And Stewart has done an excellent job in many segments striking a balance between his obligations as a citizen and a comedian.
In looking for ways to curb its excesses, “The Daily Show” could look to John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight,” which has transformed the approach of the comedy-news program. Rather than instilling apathy and cynicism, Oliver has found a way to encourage activism and political engagement. His segments, although typically less funny than Stewart’s, also involve fewer straw men and caricatures. Whether inspiring viewers to pay attention to net neutrality or reporting on false and misleading claims the Miss America pageant has made (claims our comatose media took for granted), Oliver usually devotes enough time and care to provide context to the story. Like Stewart, Oliver is a man of the Left, but so far his show has been more measured in its comedic approach. “Last Week Tonight” has consistently raised the bar. This is easier for Oliver for many reasons—he only airs one show a week, the structure and length of his show allows for longer, more in-depth segments, he’s on HBO rather than cable—but there is no reason other comedy-news programs cannot learn from it.