Jon Stewart Has Re-Introduced Appointment Viewing to Late Night

From the moment he appeared back behind his expansive desk last month on The Daily Show, Jon Stewart was smoothly, gracefully, and appropriately in his element, like a maestro back behind his favorite Steinway.

Which he then played with reckless, hilarious, silly, sardonic and scabrous abandon, as though he had never been away.

But maybe a dedicated fan of Stewart’s original superabundant award-winning stint as host of Comedy Central’s flagship program could have initially been deluded, overcome with the nostalgia of it, the insuppressible satisfaction of a memory unexpectedly revived and looking just the way it used to.

Forget that. Jon Stewart has lost nothing off his fastball. Six weeks into his comeback, he is leaving no doubt he can still rock a late-night show, even if only given one start a week.

That was undeniable last night when he returned from his first break to resume his Mondays-only star turn on TDS. The jabs were sharp, the left hooks were punishing, and the shtick was tasty—a little derriere massage for (a photo of) Donald Trump, a sad little confetti popper, saved (futilely, as it turned out) to celebrate a Trump comeuppance since 2016, a little chef’s kiss to finish off a deeply inside David Dinkins joke, which Stewart clearly relished trotting out for a New York audience where somebody might actually get it. (Dinkins was mayor of New York in the early 1990’s.)

Within the same monologue, Stewart managed to skewer Trump for his fat rear and “front butt” and his absurd self-congratulation for his golf game, while at the same time mocking New York City for its unfettered proliferation of Walgreens. (Paid off later with a callback joke: “Some blocks only have two of them.”)

This was the broad, Big Laugh-inducing appetizer from a comic confident in his work. The lacerating dissection of political hackery (also very funny) was the main course.

The show was clearly primed to riff on Trump’s dim prospects for paying off the $454 million bill served on him by the New York Attorney General for a civil judgement of systematic financial fraud. And when Trump was given a surprise sale price of 62% off by an appeals court, that didn’t really matter because what Stewart and his staff intended to expose was the campaign by pompous, privileged Trump associates to dismiss any wrongdoing by Trump because “there were no victims.”

Kevin O’Leary from Shark Tank, floated out as the perfect piñata, speaking up for the “investment community,” saying: “We’re all asking each other: who’s next?”

“Who’s next? Ah the persecuted minority of the investment community,” Stewart said, affecting professorial British snobbery. “First they came for the arbitragers, and I said nothing! For I was not an arbitrager. And then they came for the quants—which I could be, I don’t know what a quant is.”

I don’t really either, but it sounds funny.

That opened the way for Stewart to crank up his case and mount his white charger: “Money that goes to a liar doesn’t go to somebody who’s giving a more honest evaluation, so the system becomes incentivized for corruption.”

And with the old reliable Daily Show assemblage of devastating clips to backstop him, Stewart was off and running, speaking up for regular people, those who can’t get a car loan if they lie and say they have ten times more money than they do, or those say they make slightly less money than they really do in order to qualify for food assistance.

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It’s not hard to discern what elevates Stewart to hall-of-fame level as host of TDS. (And why his comeback is an event almost certain to lift hopes at Comedy Central for anything more Jon might want to offer.) He has extravagant gifts as a pure comic, but he is not giving a pure comic performance. What he’s saying he clearly believes.

Stewart does not adopt a comic persona to extract laughs; he uses exaggeration and satire but there is no affectation. Stewart calls O’Leary “such an asshole” for his “entitled arrogance,” not to get a laugh; but because he means it.

Stewart even steps on his own laughs when his moral outrage (and dudgeon) are high enough. Last night, he literally rose up in his chair to compel his audience to stifle the laughs for a moment, until he could finish his points, which included:

“Apparently, the only immoral practice in the capitalist system is to use that money for people who may need it.” And “Stealing is only justified when you already have too much.”

Why does that kind of proselytizing commentary work in comedy show? Because Stewart sells it with genuine passion.

That mix of skillfully delivered comedy with legit passion is what distinguishes Stewart at his best.

There may have been other reasons why Jon Stewart decided to return to TDS for this part-time gig. (Imagine how big a star would have to be to return to headline a Broadway show still running long after he exited, but now he’s only going to participate in it once a week).

But as a place where they’re always going love you for your jokes and your passion, what’s better than home?

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