US Late Night Satire: Jon Stewart’s Legacy
“LAWS, LIKE SAUSAGES, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made.” – Jon Saxe
Politics has gotten really weird. I mean, it’s always been a bacon-bowl mouth-burn of conflicting human interests basted in the ketchup of manipulation and private interests, but in the ‘Age of the Internet’ (collectively agreed to be a pre-pubescent age) we aren’t so much regretting visiting the sausage factory as we are watching a local drunk feed pigs into a giant fan that he set up himself with the neighbourhood kids at the end of your own damn road. In particular, the internet’s capacity as a social version of that machine that stripped all of Jonathan Osterman’s flesh off in Watchmen has led to some creative tactics from those whose jobs have, until very, very recently relied on keeping the minutiae of what they actually do just under the visible surface. And it’s depressing, right? How miserably familiar the people in charge are. And you dear reader are asking “but Daniel (my name is Daniel. You aren’t saying this bit.), You seem so sane all the time? How can I be like you?”
My secret is in Late Night Political Satire, specifically the ongoing legacy of one Jonathan Stuart Leibowitz, known to many as Jon Stewart, who has been bringing the maturity and good sense to American Political Satire that his subjects have steadfastly refused to bring to American Politics for a long time.
To say that John Stewart invented the genre would be a flagrant lie and he would dismiss it out of hand, but his influence cannot be oversold. He took over Comedy Central’s famed Daily Show from Craig Kilborn in 1999, and hosted it for 16 years. He is famed among comedians and audiences for being relentlessly ideological and dangerous to underestimate. Entering the scene as he did in the early years of 24-hour cable news channels, he set about on a merciless crusade against misinformation, partisan-politics and what he saw even then as a descent into bullshit emotion over rational examination. Stewart retired in 2015, leaving an imposing crater and his A-team of trained fake news-before-that-wasn’t-a-depressing-term team as his legacy. There’s too much content to pick out any highlights, but you can find many of his old segments on Comedy Central’s YouTube channel now and they are still worth watching.
It’s pronounced Coal-bear. Stephen Colbert started under Jon Stewart on The Daily Show and was the first of most of this list to start there and go on to have his own show, The Colbert Report, which ran after The Daily Show on Comedy Central until 2014 and was widely praised for its dry and intellectual humour. Colbert has had film roles and voice acting gigs, and now hosts The Late Show with Stephen Colbert on CBS, not to be confused with the roughy 1.5 million other talk shows all with roughly the same title. Colbert uses his basic cable platform and daily taping to call out out politicians as quickly as possible when he sees them screwing up, which is basically all the time, and his longstanding reputation gets him good bookings. He once made a blanket fort with Michelle Obama, which you can see on the show’s YouTube Channel.
Spare a thought for South-African born comedian Trevor Noah, who was nigh-on unknown when he was confirmed as the new host of The Daily Show to replace John Stewart. He was immediately put under scrutiny, with longtime fans of the show digging up old tweets and jokes that painted him in an unfavourable light and decrying that the show would be forever dead. For a while, it was shaken. Trevor Noah took over the hosting gig just as Donald Trump announced his candidacy for president in late 2015. He entered into an American Political Climate already engorged on lunacy and helping itself to a second course, and he did so as an outsider. A black, African outsider. As he put it himself: “Jon was […] our political dad. And now Dad has left. And it feels like the family has a new Stepdad… and he’s black.“
Trevor Noah may not be our dad, but he’s grown into the show and given it a new voice. The show has its own dedicated YouTube Channel now, and it updates throughout the week. His show is also on Comedy Central Tuesday through Friday at 01.00.
The next of Stewart’s legacy and perhaps his widest known, John Oliver took over hosting The Daily Show for the summer of 2013 while Stewart directed his feature film passion project Rosewater, having been a correspondent for the show since 2006. He was snapped up by HBO and now hosts their weekly late night offering Last Week Tonight. And it’s incredible.
Not even attempting to match the daily pace of his mentor, Oliver instead opted to use each week to take a deep dive on a pertinent subject. The pieces he produces, while often adhering to a formula, are brilliantly educational and researched to a genuinely painful degree. In 20 minutes you can hear about anything from chicken farming to government surveillance, and the show often goes out of it’s way to make sure you know more about these subjects than you ever wanted to. Oliver himself is assertively dismissive of his show’s influence, arguing that they only do it for the comedy. I don’t believe this for a moment. Not for an instant do I think Oliver went so many years under Jon Stewart without realising the power satire has to make a difference. Last Week Tonight maintains a sporadic update schedule on its YouTube channel, though it does engage in some annoying geolocking. It can be found on Sky Atlantic on Mondays at 22.35.
Larry Wilmore’s official position on The Daily Show was Senior Black Correspondent, because that’s more official than token black guy. Wilmore, who joined at the same time as Oliver, was the voice of the black community on the show, and never shied away from using his skin to lampoon issues of race on a larger scale. From 2015 to 2016 he followed The Daily Show with his own Nightly Show on Comedy Central, a replacement for Colbert’s then-concluded Colbert Report. It mixed topical monologues with round-table panel discussions again with race and minority issues at the heart of the shows’s DNA. But it didn’t draw the ratings and was cancelled, without irony, largely because it seemed like there wasn’t a market for two black late night hosts in succession after Trevor Noah took his seat.
Wilmore is also the co-creator & showrunner of HBO’s Insecure.
Increasingly regarded as the cream of the crop of Daily Show alumni, Samantha Bee’s calling card is her unfiltered acid and penetrating viciousness. Her lightning fast delivery and interview expertise give her show a sharp edge that has earned her no small amount of backlash and anti-feminist rage on the internet, which she takes in apparent good humour and high-spirits. Watching her dismantle an interviewee’s bigotry on the fly is truly impressive and, if that wasn’t enough, she already has her own team of understudies and correspondents harking back to her origins on, yes, you guessed it, The Daily Show, who deliver brilliant segments like a recent interview of Donald Trump’s long-standing Scottish nemesis and a Werner Hertzog style documentary about Jeb Bush. To make it even better, her show Full Frontal is up on Youtube in its entirety for free. You owe it to yourself to check her out.
So, lets ask two questions:
1: Why, my good sir, it appears this is a selective list of American comedians. What exactly make it so the colonies are so widely represented while our fair island England is not?
2: What is this fucking list of liberal beta cuck snowflake reverse-racist elite spaghetti stroganoff unfunny LIBTARD comedians?
To the first, well we might be getting a break over here soon. Political comedy on the BBC has been long dominated by panel shows: Have I got News for You, Mock the Week, The News Quiz & The Now Show. The only breakout news satire stars to run their own series consistently are Chris Morris, the creator of such greats as The Day Today, Brass Eye and the film Four Lions, Charlie Brooker, whose ‘Wipe’ franchise is about as close as we’ve ever gotten to our own British Daily Show and Russell Howard’s Good News, which was a hit-and-miss standup show that even where it succeeded, lacked the research-intensive foundations that makes the above American shows so valuable. But ITV is about to start its own addition to the genre, with their own Nightly Show, mixing up-to-the-minute monologues and celebrity guests in the style of Colbert’s Late Show. Whether it will earn its place among this canon remains to be seen.
And to the second I say:
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