“The Problem With Jon Stewart” Premiere Review: Revisiting the Liberal, Post-Trump Music Video | Arts


The world is now very different from what it was in August 2015, the last time a TV audience saw Jon Stewart behind a desk as the host of the acclaimed hybrid news comedy show “The Daily Show”. Watching his new project “The Problem With Jon Stewart”, produced in association with Apple TV +, it’s hard not to feel that Stewart can’t quite keep up.

“The Daily Show,” which has been hosted by South African comedian Trevor Noah since Stewart left, has always had a strong social justice angle. Unlike other comedy news programs such as SNL’s “Weekend Update”, “The Daily Show” did not position itself as mere news satire but rather as a show that satirically examining corruption and political embezzlement, tried to speak the truth to power. .

When Donald Trump entered the scene the moment Stewart left television, “The Daily Show”, “Last Week Tonight” and other music video shows reacted to him as they had reacted to other conservative politicians: in laughing at him. But, as Dan Brooks writes in his New York Times article “How President Trump Ruined the End of the Night” Trump himself capitalized on his own inherent ridicule so much that this approach became untenable, with Trump himself saying things so incredibly inflammatory that it was impossible to tell whether he was joking or not. According to Brooks, irony has become a tool of the Right, “a means of advancing the joking versions of its real agenda, in a way that makes it difficult to distinguish between the two.” It became impossible for comedians to satire Trump in a vacuum because his satirical quality was part of his power.

Now, under Biden, it’s not clear if comedy can be used as a tool of political accountability again. This is the central question that plagues “The Problem with Jon Stewart”, and, at least in the first episode, Stewart and his team never quite agree on an answer.

The first episode, entitled “War”, deals with a rather obscure problem: the burn centers. Used by the US military in war zones, burns are large piles of medical waste, human excreta, and other wastes that are burned as a method of disposal. After spending a great deal of time in contact with the highly carcinogenic products of these fires, veterans often develop cancer and other life-threatening disabilities.

The most compelling part of the show is Stewart’s interview with a panel of veterans and their spouses who describe the difficulty in finding medical help for these ailments because the Department of Veterans Affairs does not cover them. conditions related to burns. Stewart handles these conversations with incredible empathy, but his attention is eroded when the interview switches to a comedy skit on how to make a home at home. Like most jokes in the series, instead of sounding funny, the song turns out to be callous and goofy.

There doesn’t seem to be a clear villain in the household’s story, even after Stewart interviews Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis Richard McDonough. McDonough seems to be the obvious candidate for this role as he has, more than anyone else, the ability to help victims of burn outbreaks. When Stewart pushes him and asks him why the VA refuses to change his coverage policy, McDonough is unable to give a clear answer. However, this lack of clarity does not appear malicious. The conclusion, on the contrary, seems to be that the bureaucracy, and not McDonough individually, is holding back the necessary changes.

Under Trump, the political enemy could not be put down by comedy. Under Biden, the political enemy is embodied less by individuals than by a system, which is hard to imagine the comedy actually changing. As a result, the jokes on the Stewart show don’t have the same avant-garde resonance as they did in the days of Stewart’s “Daily Show.” Instead, they come across as screams of desperation. Perhaps, then, the problem with “The Problem with Jon Stewart” isn’t Jon Stewart – maybe it is that in the current political moment, the hybrid comedy-news show, or at least the familiar version. of Stewart, no longer works.

—Editor Mira S. Alpers can be contacted at [email protected]

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