Jon Stewart’s disappointing return


During the darkest years of George W. Bush’s presidency, when it seemed that the country was fracturing — Iraq and Afghanistan, recession and Katrina — I discovered the work of the comedian Bill Hicks. Hicks, who died at 32 of pancreatic cancer in 1994, had been a savage critic of Bush’s father, among many other things, and his ferocious honesty felt restorative at a time of flimsy, lethal lies. As I listened to Hicks’ old routines (little of what he said can be republished here), I couldn’t help but wonder what he would have been saying if he’d lived — and think that his voice might have made a difference, however slight.

In the last four years, I’ve had similar thoughts about Jon Stewart, the former Daily Show host who stepped down in 2015 (and who is, it must be said, very much alive). During his 16 years as host, the Comedy Central show became a juggernaut of political satire, hitting a sweet spot of earnest outrage and playful humor that hadn’t been seen before. And while there has since been no shortage of such commentary — Stewart’s successor, Trevor Noah, and former Daily Show contributors John Oliver and Samantha Bee are prominent examples — it’s been difficult not to wonder what Stewart, who had been so incisive for so long, makes of the country’s current predicament.

Although he has surfaced occasionally — testifying to congress on behalf of 9/11 first responders, appearing on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert — he has been largely absent from a moment that begs for his critique. So it’s no small disappointment that his creative silence has been broken with Irresistible — a feeble political satire, released on Friday, that he wrote, directed, and co-produced. Despite its maker, the film possesses little humor or insight; at a time of vicious partisan warfare, it hits with all the force of a marshmallow tumbling down the stairs.

Irresistible tells the story of Gary Zimmer, a slick Democratic strategist played by Steve Carell, who, on the strength of a YouTube clip, believes that Jack Hastings — a salt-of-the-earth Wisconsin farmer played by Chris Cooper — represents the future of his reeling party. Zimmer jets to the economically battered, fictional town of Deerlaken to beg Hastings to run for mayor. “Democrats are getting their asses kicked because guys like me don’t know how to talk to guys like you,” Zimmer says when they meet, one of countless lines that sound less like a character speaking than like Stewart making a point. “I really believe that you believe what I believe… that what is happening in this country is wrong.”

Yet Irresistible barely touches on what is happening in America in 2020, or any other year. Stewart can’t be faulted for not anticipating the strife that presently grips the nation, but his thesis — that What Really Ails Us are political consultants (embodied by Zimmer and a venomous GOP operative played by Rose Byrne) and the money they funnel into …read more

Source:: The Week – Politics


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