By Megan Gramlich
Last week, Jon Stewart announced that he would step down from the Daily Show. His mock-up news show revolutionized the delivery of political comedy on television and reached out to a new generation often characterized as disinterested in politics. The Daily Show and its offspring Last Week Tonight and the Colbert Report, hosted by John Oliver and Stephen Colbert respectively, serve to both entertain and effectively convey opinions regarding contemporary issues.
Jon Stewart’s sarcastic demeanor, wit, and hyperbolic absurdity effectively highlights perceived flaws in American politics. The comedic genius often mocks arguments made by politicians and “real” news shows. “Here’s the point – you’re looking at affirmative action, and you’re looking at marijuana. You legalize marijuana, no need for quotas, because really, who’s gonna wanna work?” Stewart’s ridicule of political discourse conveys interpretations of the state of the nation and argues that problematic features of our government and culture must change. He challenges even the most pervasive notions in American political and legal life, such as the standard of an impartial jury. “There is no such thing as an impartial jury because there are no impartial people. There are people that argue on the web for hours about who their favorite character on ‘Friends’ is.” The Daily Show is also well know for its brilliant fake news reports, such as an investigation of the claim made by politicians about the current state of American health care.
Over the past sixteen years, The Daily Show’s impact has expanded far beyond the boundaries of simple laughter. The show has created a cult following among viewers seeking forthright and amusing political rhetoric. His fake news show shapes the way audiences think about politics. In a 2007 poll, Stewart was ranked number four for most admirable journalist, tying with journalists from traditional news sources such as Brian Williams of NBC and Anderson Cooper of CNN. Further, The Daily Show birthed equally powerful settings for discourse. A study found that the Colbert Report, a spinoff of the Daily Show that was hosted by Stephen Colbert before he signed off in order to host the Late Show, better informed Americans about the impact of Super PACs and unlimited funding on elections and the resulting implications for democracy. Both Stewart and Colbert criticized Citizens United, a 2010 Supreme Court Case. They mocked the idea that “money equals free speech, and corporations are people,” and held that allowing for unlimited donations in elections stifles the voices of the American people by swaying the elections in the favor of politicians backed by a minority of wealthy individuals.
Stewart and Colbert have proven that satirical comedy is a powerful source of influence on popular opinion. They appeal to a wide audience composed of many individuals who are tired of a minority of media figureheads controlling political discourse and dominating traditional news sources. In 2010, they led the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, an event intended to provide a forum for the sane – those who are sick of antagonizing and counterproductive discussions that pervade politics. As Stewart correctly noted, “Liberal and conservative have lost their meaning in America. I represent the distracted center.”
Many will miss Colbert on the Colbert Report and Stewart on the Daily Show. Luckily, John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight is equally as witty, entertaining, and thought-provoking, and we can look forward to Stewart’s replacement. The continuing appeal of the political satire of the likes of Jon Stewart has ensured a place for talented comedians in popular media. Be assured, quality political satire will endure.