Atlantic: Jon Stewart's new show takes the clown nose off, 'he’s not even trying to be funny'

There’s long been a criticism of Jon Stewart during his heyday on the Daily Show he would raise serious topics and usually attempt to skewer the right but then if you pointed out he hadn’t treated the issue very fairly he’d retreat into the role of comedian. Hey guys, I’m just doing jokes. This clown nose on, clown nose off act served him well for many years and helped make him a big star.


A few weeks ago I pointed out that Stewart’s new show seemed less humorous and more dishonest than his old one. And it appears I wasn’t the only person who noticed the change because ratings for the show dropped substantially over just a few months. Then yesterday the Atlantic published a piece titled “What Happened to Jon Stewart?” which does actually try to answer the question of why his show isn’t so funny or compelling as it used to be even for fans. And though the author doesn’t use this language, his conclusion is that Stewart has more or less taken his clown nose off and the results are a show that’s not funny or thought provoking.

The grand return that Stewart finally launched last fall, The Problem With Jon Stewart, streaming on Apple TV+, is hosted by a guy who took a six-year break from television, and boy, does it show. According to the industry-measurement firm Samba TV, the fifth episode of The Problem With Jon Stewart has been streamed just 40,000 times, which is down 78 percent from the pilot, which aired on September 30, 2021…

Stewart’s specific genius on The Daily Show was layering facts and complexity into jokes, and stitching punch lines together into George Carlin–esque political riffs. When Stewart was at the peak of his powers, no one could pack more ideas into 22 minutes of comedy. But something has turned. Now he’s the one who seems overwhelmed by complexity and prone to oversimplification. He’s the one who gets called out for fumbling facts, for missing the point, for being out of touch. It’s not just that Tucker Carlson has struck back with a Stewart-proof breed of sophistry. It’s not just that topical comedy doesn’t work as well as it used to. The problem with The Problem With Jon Stewart is Jon Stewart himself…

The Problem With Jon Stewart is a strikingly unambitious, defiantly untimely show that confuses thrift with substance, as though spending money on anything but office furniture is a sign of intellectual unseriousness…

“I’m having a hard time figuring out what you’re going for,” the New York Times opinion writer Kara Swisher told Stewart in her casually insulting way on a recent episode of her podcast Sway. She called his Apple show “spare.” (“When I say ‘spare,’” she said, really pouring it on, Howard Stern–style, “it is spaaare.”) She brushed off the show’s opening 15 minutes as the “beginning part, where you do your Jon Stewart thing with an audience.” Baffled, she posed the question to him instead: “What do you think you’re going for?”…

Once upon a time, if you accused Jon Stewart of actually trying to solve problems, of attempting to contribute something more useful than dick jokes, he’d plead dumb comedian—I’m just here to make people laugh! It was insincere then, and now it’s being parroted by Joe Rogan to excuse spreading COVID lies around the world. Yet again Stewart’s tactics have been weaponized by forces of disinformation. Stewart’s reaction, though, has been to drop the veil of comedy altogether. Aside from his Jon Stewart thing at the beginning of The Problem and a few wry asides during interviews, he’s not even trying to be funny. When you take the comedy out of topical comedy, though, you become … the media. (“I think you’re a good comedian. I think your lectures are boring … I do think you’re more fun on your show,” Carlson said to Stewart in that Crossfire appearance, all those years ago. For once, Tucker was telling the truth.)


Reacting to that story yesterday, Ben Dreyfuss did a whole thread about why the new show was so terrible.

Another point raised by the Atlantic and by Dreyfuss is that in addition to being unfunny, Stewart’s show is often just wrong on the facts. Stewart recently did an episode about the stock market in which he praised the Redditors who bid up GameStop stock.

But a WSJ reporter who wrote a book about the GameStop episode then pointed out that Stewart had sort of missed the point. Stewart had him on his podcast to discuss it and, well…

I listened to most of the podcast with Spencer Jakab and it really was somewhat painful. Here’s a video version of it if you’re interested. Jakab just keeps pointing out that the Robin Hood story didn’t benefit small investors it just helped draw more people into the kind of speculative day trading that ultimately benefits Wall Street middlemen. Stewart keeps trying to say that the entire stock market needs to be reformed (in a way he never really explains) to protect these investors. But Jakab calmly argues that all the small investors really need to do to “beat the house” is buy a spider fund and let the money sit there and grow without making a lot of short-term transactions that ultimately benefit the middlemen.


Dreyfuss continued:

Of course these critics are basically also people on the left, so they’re not going to go after the same problems in Stewart’s episode about race, but the same problems do exist. Stewart has removed the clown nose and is trying to be somewhat serious. The problem is he often doesn’t know what he’s talking about and can’t make arguments without demonstrating that.

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Duane Patterson 10:00 PM | July 11, 2024