Jon Stewart's satirical barbs draw viewers, Emmy notice
By David Bauder
Jon Stewart could barely contain himself.
Jon Stewart and his "The Daily Show" satire from New York City continue to climb in the ratings.
"I do believe we need to go to a 24-hour fake news channel," he said. "Fox can't be the only fake news channel out there!"
Stewart can't wait to bare the absurdities of the news and the people who cover it, and his sharp humor has made "The Daily Show" a force. Perhaps no one hit the comic mark more consistently during the war in Iraq. As an election year approaches, Stewart's in top form.
He and "The Daily Show" are up for five Emmys next month, and the Television Critics Association gave him two awards last month. The critics even nominated "The Daily Show" for best achievement in news, along with "60 Minutes" and "Nightline."
On Aug. 14, the nation's reigning political celebrity, New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, will be Stewart's guest.
During unfunny times, viewers have responded to Stewart's ability to make fun. The show's average nightly audience has nearly doubled from 427,000 in 1999, the year he took over, to a current 788,000.
"Even though terrible things are going on around us, I would hope that wouldn't mean that the sense of humor is lost," Stewart said, relaxing in his office after taping a show. "The idea isn't to make jokes about horrible things. The idea is to find the absurdity in the difficult circumstances around us."
Stewart helps keep political satire alive, particularly for a young audience that the experts say isn't very attuned to the news.
The show's fake "debate" about foreign policy, using film clips to show President Bush arguing about nation-building with presidential candidate Bush, was as pointed as a political cartoon.
"He's really strong at political satire," said CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer, whose first name, naturally, has made him a target of Stewart's barbs. "I don't know of anybody who does it better than he does."
Blitzer said he can tell that Stewart and his staff are news junkies.
"The Daily Show" recognizes that its audience has an astute media awareness, too. Stewart made note last week, for example, that the New York Times used an obituary of comedian Bob Hope written by a reporter, Vincent Canby, who died in 2000.
Stewart's political humor stands out, in part, because he's willing to be tough when others aren't. At the same time, he's less threatening because he has no ideological ax to grind.
"Believe me, the idea of the show is not to be a bold, critical voice that stands out amidst timidity," he said. "It's more like, 'I think we need a fart joke at the end of this because we're getting too strident.' Ultimately, everyone here thinks of ourselves in terms of being a comedy show and that's it."
The rigid discipline of the Bush administration is easy to have fun with, he said.
At the very least, it's a change from Monica Lewinsky jokes. "When you look back on it now, I wish we were making jokes about that," he said. "That was a luxurious scandal if there ever was one. Imagine a president right now who'd even have time for extra oral sex."
"The Daily Show" will begin gearing up this fall for another presidential campaign. Right now, the staff is just happy the GOP convention is in New York, so they can sleep in their own beds.
Stewart's "Indecision 2000" coverage attracted attention last time. With a larger audience, it's likely to get even more this time.
The upcoming Hillary Clinton appearance is an indication of that. Other than the insatiable need for applause, Stewart can't quite understand why it's important for politicians to go on comedy shows. Not that he's complaining.
"I can't imagine anyone lauding Churchill's legacy as, yes, he rallied England during its darkest hours but, also, tremendous ribald wit," he said. "Great leadership, as far as I know, doesn't require that you go toe to toe with pranksters, but for some reason, they feel that it adds to their electability."