Jon Stewart’s return to “The Daily Show” was truly amazing

When I read that Jon Stewart was coming back as host The daily show part time, I felt myself visibly cringing.

“Why do this to you, Jon?” I thought. Stewart had left the show at what seemed like the right time: in August 2015, just before American politics became so absurd that it became the punchline rather than the set-up. In a the final monologue is memorable, Stewart implored his audience to beware of “premeditated institutional bullshit, designed to obscure and distract.” The best of Stewart’s comedy has always come from there: exposing the bullshit of politics by superimposing clips of the same politician saying two hypocritical things, then looking straight into the camera with that wry smile of his. Understood.

But in 2024, is there anything to be gained by pointing out that our leaders are power-hungry hypocrites? We all know that Donald Trump contradicts himself and lies regularly. We have all experienced senseless and ever-changing mandates during the COVID-19 pandemic. “This won’t work anymore, Jon,” I thought. “You can’t fix this.”

I may have only been half right. No comedian or commentator is going to fix what’s wrong with American politics. But after watching the first of Stewart’s new episodes (he’ll host the show on Mondays only), I’m happy he’s back. It’s possible, maybe even likely, that he’ll say something terrible next week or won’t be able to keep the momentum going for very long. For now, though, I think his style could still work.

Two moments from the show stood out. First, in a segment focused on the presidential election, Stewart demonstrated that when he’s on the line, he’s still one of the best bullshit detectors in the media. He distributed clips of a half-dozen Democratic officials and surrogates arguing that, behind the scenes, President Joe Biden is competent, capable and mentally strong.

“Did…someone…film…that?” Stewart asks, grimacing at the camera. “Because if you tell us behind the scenes that he’s sharp and full of energy and really in control and command, you should film it. It would be nice to show it to people.”

He was reminded of the time during his eight-plus years of retirement when Stewart had made headlines: a successful appearance on The Late Show, where he skewered the then-official story that the COVID-19 pandemic was not the result of a laboratory leak in Wuhan, China.

In both cases, the American public is being told one story, but common sense suggests that something entirely different may be true. When this happens, Stewart is one of the few people in the media willing to suggest that you should trust your own mind first or, at the very least, that you should be skeptical of what those in power say.

Those people like Stewart and Bill Maher, who Matt Welch interviewed in the latest issue of Reason— having to do this kind of thing through the lens of comedy speaks volumes about the lack of critical voices within the political media, particularly on the left. Neither should be confused with a libertarian, although they may express libertarian views at times. But the importance of truly having liberal Commentators calling out bullshit on both the right and left are more important than ever, and there are too few of them.

Predictably, Stewart’s riff on Biden’s age attracted attention criticism of left commentators accusing him of ignoring the greater threat posed by Donald Trump’s candidacy.

Stewart had a message for that crowd last night, too: “What’s crazy is to think that we, as voters, have to silence concerns and criticism,” Stewart said. Telling voters that their eyes and ears are lying about Biden’s faculties will probably work, as will trying to dismiss the lab leak theory as misinformation.

Later, after reeling off the many, many reasons why Trump is unfit to be president, Stewart made a finer point: “The stakes of this election do not make Donald Trump’s opponent any less susceptible to control. It actually makes him more subject to control.”

It was a strong, tight, wryly funny performance, but Stewart saved perhaps his best part for the very end, when he urged Americans to remember that life doesn’t revolve around presidential elections. (If you don’t want to sit through the rest of the monologue, do yourself a favor and skip ahead to the 6:28 mark and Watch it.)

All the attention paid to the election over the next nine months “will make you feel like Tuesday, Nov. 5, is the only day that matters,” Stewart said. “And that day matters, but, man, November 6th is nothing to complain about or November 7th. If your boy loses, bad things might happen, but the country isn’t finished. And if your boy wins, the country is in no way saved.”

“The work of making this world like the one you would rather live in is a lunch pail [bleep]“working day in and day out,” Stewart continued. “I’m not saying you don’t have to worry about who wins the election. I’m saying you have to worry every day before and every day after. Forever.”

It’s another one of those things that is obviously true, even as so many public officials and so many media outlets try to claim the opposite: the outcome of an election will neither save nor destroy America. The idea that politics is the solution to all our problems makes as much sense as ignoring the possible role of the Wuhan lab in the origins of COVID or arguing that a couple of teetering elderly people are the best options to lead the country.

When your common sense clashes with what you hear in the media, check for bullshit.

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