Commentary ~ Jon Stewart’s return to The Daily Show is a regression for Late Night

If you are a left-leaning liberal or centrist, you might remember Jon’s politics aligning more with yours. In fact, Jon was never very interested in partisan politics; The Daily Show under his tenure was mostly about holding media to account. A single interview of John Stewart by Tucker Carlson was responsible for shutting down an old Fox show called Crossfire – the best example of Jon’s interests on TDS. But even though he often stood in opposition to Fox News due to their poor journalistic standards and entertainment news, it’s not really because he’s “anti-Conservative” or something. I’d say he’s about as centrist as a man of his wealth can be.

(If you’re not familiar with my usual speeches about class solidarity, I will say “class solidarity always comes first” and Jon’s part of the ruling class in America by virtue of provisional whiteness, extreme success in the entertainment industry, and the access his money provides him. Hence, we would consider it strange if he did not behave like a Rich American, right?)

Jon’s a true believer in American exceptionalism, which is a viewpoint making someone vulnerable to a lot of blind spots about America’s role in the world. He’s mostly wielded his power and opinion for good, though! He advocates for 9/11 rescue workers and American veterans, which is the exact kind of activism I hope to get from that stance. His persistence navigating political systems to advocate for these folks is my favorite work of his.

Unfortunately, Jon has also espoused some marginal, paranoid viewpoints. I don’t have anything to point to besides a really strange interview with Colbert about the “Wuhan lab leak” covid conspiracy – but Jon left TDS to go into a farm in the woods and grow a beard, and it seems like he maybe bought into the crazy bearded guy in a farm in the woods bit too well. He may have had more marginal, paranoid viewpoints in his pocket when he lost his Apple deal, but I suspect Apple was also being weird. Either way: Jon has strayed further from mainstream appeal in the intervening years and he might have something *really* weird in his pocket.

But I think that he wants to go back to TDS because he feels a sense of responsibility. His mission to point at American journalism and say “this sucks” didn’t end up helping much; our infotainment and propaganda systems have worsened, radicalizing an already polarized country. I think Jon Stewart wants a platform to return to media accountability in the year of the 2024 election because he wants to put his finger on the scale against another Trump presidency.

We’re in a really different world than the one left at the end of TDS. Correspondent Jordan Klepper is doing some really challenging, agile work exploring right wing extremism in America. Former correspondent Roy Wood Jr had a vision for TDS moving forward, but Comedy Central refused to play ball with him, so they lost one of their best voices. There are other great potential successors in the wings, like Amber Ruffin, who could bring something completely new to TDS – and John Oliver, the most leftward late night personality, voiced his support for Uncle Roy and Ruffin.

It’s impossible to say what Jon Stewart is going to do on his return, but the temporary nature of it makes it clear this is a special project for him, and I question how much meaningful sway he’s going to have on this election. Comedy Central has chosen to do away with a regular host for the foreseeable future, and a late night host is a big boss who organizes correspondents, facilitates comedy careers, and also gets a platform for her own interests.

It feels like this is promoting Jon’s desire to save us from Drump, and Comedy Central’s desire for advertising dollars, at the expense of other performers’ careers — without actually adding much to the conversation. Late Night in general is more vessel for PR than an effective tool for organization, as proven by Stewart and Colbert’s own 2010 Washington rally that was only a comedy show and didn’t register a single voter (or do anything else). We have already seen what Jon does with peak TDS; I would rather see Uncle Roy or Amber behind the desk full-time (or Leslie Jones! or Charlamagne tha God! my two favorite guest hosts) in an election year, a time of political turmoil. We should not burden any Late Night show with more responsibility or expectations of relevancy when America’s problems are much more profound than Jon’s perspective, limited by his own successes, can pick apart.

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