I watched Jon Stewart on the Oprah show recently. Here are some of my observations.
Stewart is a funny and reasonable guy and beyond that there’s not much there in the way of solving the world’s problems. To his credit, he seems to know this and he had to keep reminding Oprah about it.
Oprah said once or twice he was “influential.” He would reply that he makes jokes.
Oprah asked if Stewart would run for office. The first thing he said is that he knows that he doesn’t have the answers. Oprah then said he’s probably more influential with his show and he said something to the effect that he makes jokes.
Oprah teed up a segment about where he was going to show pictures of people, and wanted Stewart to comment because “he’s one of the sharpest guys we know”. I believe he responded again, “I’m funny.”
Oprah showed a picture of Glenn Beck. I felt a pause in the audience as if Stewart was going to lay into him, I expected something like, “this guy is an…” Yet, exceeding my expectations, I could detect no visible animosity in Stewart’s body language. Quite the contrary. There was a glimmer in his eyes. He said that he considers Beck his moneymaker and his kid’s college fund.
I think Stewart knows he’s tapped an artery. Many folks who have never listened to Beck beyond his sound bites dislike him enough to illicit strong emotional responses. Stewart the shrewd joker and businessman sees a money-making opportunity. He’s cashing in on those emotions. In other words, very much like Beck, he’s riding the emotional waves for cash.
Stewart’s wife said “he’s not like this at home, he doesn’t talk about politics or anything like that”. That’s not surprising.
Overall I got that sense that Stewart is grounded and he knows he’s thankful that he has a good act. It was refreshing to see that Stewart seems to know his strengths and limitations. Which is good because when he talked about some real issues, he was awful. He threw out straw men (e.g. “those on the right say there are school shootings because we don’t read the bible in school”) and weak, caricatured arguments that include just enough of the buzz of the issue delivered in a well-honed comedic/authoritative manner to get head nods and applause for folks that don’t often think beyond the surface of the issues.
Early in the segment he said that 70% to 80% of the people in the country are “reasonable” and that 15% – 20% are not and the problem is that we are run by the latter. He went on to attempt to discuss a real issue. He talked about the mosque at Ground Zero. He presented several straw men of the opposing positions and presented the supporting position as the reasonable one. Yet, according to this poll from Time magazine, 70% of Americans polled agreed that “continuing with the plan would be an insult to the victims of the attacks of the World Trade Center,” which doesn’t match up with his belief that he falls into the reasonable 70% crowd.
Stewart seems to know his strength is in making fun and I enjoy his comedy. He’s good at it. But, I think some of his viewers, including Oprah, mistake his act for reality and accept his commentary as well reasoned positions on par with folks such as Thomas Sowell, Charles Krauthammer, George Will and Walter Williams, when he’s probably not quite on part with Glenn Beck.
Stewart also gave great career advice. Talking about his stand-up comedian days, he said some nights you bomb and some nights you crush, with the same material. The audience response isn’t necessarily an accurate gauge on the quality of the content. He drops the high and low scores and thinks his actual performance is somewhere in between and doesn’t let it get him down.
Those years as a stand-up, he developed a skill set. Telling jokes, commanding an audience, developing a breadth of material to draw on while he’s in his act. He’s experimented with several different things and happened upon a black swan in the form of a news parody show. He’s happened along another in the form of tapping into the Glenn Beck opposition.
He’s participating in capitalism and doing quite well. Others should recognize that and root for the system that allows his success.