Jon Stewart’s Live Post-Debate Daily Show Was the Primal Scream We Needed

If your assignment is to write and produce a live comedy show based on an event that ends less than a half hour before the red light comes on, you might be forgiven for cheating and writing the bulk of the jokes in advance and only glancingly referring to what had just occurred—or for giving up and running screaming into the night.

But to its impressive credit, The Daily Show didn’t do either of those things Thursday night when it took on the challenge of getting a polished-looking show up and running at 11 pm ET, about 20 minutes after CNN’s sign-off on this year’s first (and possibly only) presidential debate.

The challenge had some potentially daunting downsides: Many past presidential debates have been boring affairs, with almost no easy punchlines amid the stats and self-aggrandizing lies. But given the two participants involved this time, those risks were clearly minimized.

TDS took on this challenge alone among the traditional late-night series, even though political jokes have become the nightly entrée in the diet of monologues on most of them. But going it alone was fitting for a now-long-running show that made its name pummeling the powers of politics and media. How could it pass up a shot at a live post-debate show, with its biggest star, Jon Stewart, back as its leading voice?

And if anything, Stewart looked (and sounded) like he was champing at the mic to unload on what he saw transpire over on CNN (and a host of other channels) Thursday night.

That may have been because the train wreck on display basically reinforced the very aggressive commentary Stewart delivered the night of his celebrated return to TDS, when he considered the prospect of the rematch between Biden and Trump and his message was essentially “Not these two f*cking guys again.”

In some ways those two, uh, gentlemen—especially Biden—made it easy for the joke writers to find the lines to lampoon and the editors to find the clips to illustrate just how bad it was. And in time-honored Daily Show form, the selections were dead on.

Surely they would not miss the moment early on when Biden froze mid-answer about the Roe decision and somehow segued into the woman murdered by an undocumented immigrant and wound up unable to find words and just blurted out something about “breaking Medi-caid.” (They didn’t miss it.)

And when Trump failed what Stewart called “The Asshole Test,” by unleashing a string of nonsensical attacks on Biden including about his golf game, that was perfectly teed up too.

Yes, there were some previously set-up moments that opened Stewart’s monologue, puncturing the obvious targets like CNN’s unremitting build-up to the debate. I liked the bit with Biden playing Scrooge at the window in his nightcap asking a boy in the street “Is it debate day, America?”

And the show cleverly anticipated that jokes would be there based on montages of what the media and political pundits predicted each candidates would have to do to be successful.

For Trump that came down to: “Be normal for 90 minutes.”

For Biden: “Avoid a senior moment.” And: “Stay upright.”

Of course, the conclusion was: Both failed.

Stewart was able then to first lament and then vent. Lament in both verbal and facial reactions to the horror show just witnessed by millions. Vent in some of the most impassioned commentary he has ever delivered.

He found the launching pad for his theme in the ridiculous pre-debate claims by the Trump cabal that Biden was going to somehow find dragon juice or some other “performance-enhancing drug” to get him hopped up for his tilt against the nobly un-chemically assisted Trump.

Why would this not be a regular thing, Stewart wondered. Not just for debate night. As though someone would complain, he said: “He solved the Middle East but he was doped up.”

After seeing the event unspool in all of its depressing non-glory, Stewart suggested if PEDs were not on offer, “I could sure use some recreational ones right now.” And with his voice rising, and several epithets thrown in for emphasis he added, “Because these two guys cannot be real life! It just CAN’T! F*ck. We’re America! God!”

Then he failed in an attempt to tear his entire script in half. But the effort was there.

One question Stewart did not address, but which lingered in the air after his primal scream subsided: What happens next?

Over on the news channels, they were openly speculating that Jon might get his wish, because it might not be “these f*cking guys again,” if the reactions across the Democratic party played out and Biden finally acknowledged that nobody should still be president at age 86.

That will likely be the topic for another day—week—month on The Daily Show and across the entire late-night landscape. At least when the shows are not on vacation.

At a minimum, it promises to open new comedic threads for all of them, just when they were starting to run out of all those “he’s old!” jokes.

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1 Comment

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  1. Emily51 says:

    Great article! You hit the nail on the head as to why I loved Jon Stewart’s commentary that night!! I just can’t believe every other late night host chose to go on vacation this week. The date of the debate was publicized far enough in advance so they could work this week and go on vacation the week of July 4th.