I derive comfort from the oddest things sometimes. When I'm sick and/or miserable for an extended length of time -- which in fact I have been, and they have just given me another bottle of drugs which does not work correctly, and my next return appointment isn't until next week -- with no clear end in sight, I cope by grabbing onto something, and researching the ever-loving fuck out of it. My brain is the only part of me that keeps working right when I feel lousy. I had the honest-to-God flu once, the kind where you spend a few days wondering if you're going to die and the next two weeks praying that you will, and in those horrible waking hours between one dose of drugs wearing off and my next dose of drugs kicking in, I crammed the entirety of the sci.electronics.repair FAQ into my brain. I now know far more about resuscitating dead VCRs than I will ever conceivably get to use.

Another bout of problems coincided with the Doctor Who Restoration Team inventing yet another piece of innovative software for video restoration. Want to know how you retrieve lost PAL color information from a high-res scan of a black and white telecine archive recording? Ask me! Or don't. I think I'm one of about six people on the planet who cares, and the other five wrote the program. It's fascinating when it's 4:45 in the morning and you've taken one of every color of cold medication in the house, I promise.

I use shiny objects and background noise to distract me from things like how very vehemently my body disagrees with clonidine, so I keep turning on the Month of Zen marathon that Comedy Central is running on their website. It's not actually a month -- I think it's something like 42 days -- but it's not particularly Zen either, so it's entirely in keeping with The Daily Show's tradition of making sure nothing even remotely accurate creeps into their segment names. (Or the show name. It's only on M-Th, and there are many weeks per year where it doesn't air at all, because everyone's on vacation.)

I noted previously that nobody wants to read three pages of me rambling about random people on TV. I feel lousy, so I'm going to be cantakerous and do it anyway. But I try not to inflict myself on other people too much, so I've remembered to put a cut in this time.

Still with me? I knew you lot were crazy.

I'd never heard of The Daily Show before Jon Stewart started hosting it. Judging from the ratings, neither had anyone else. I was up at that time of night, mainly because I didn't sleep in high school, but if I wasn't really paying attention to the news, I figured I might as well not be paying attention to the real news on CNN.

The archives on CC.com only go back to 1999, so I poked around on YouTube to find a few episodes with the original host, Craig Kilborn. Kilborn is a work of art, inasmuch as he appears to have been painstakingly carved out of a solid block of wood. I have no idea what Kilborn is like in real life or if this is his normal stage character, as I have never seen a single other thing he has ever done in front of a camera, but as the head anchor here, he appears to be playing a man whose only emotions are self-absorption and sarcasm. The act is everything I always hated about watching Norm Macdonald do Weekend Update on SNL. It can be funny in short bursts, or with a more emotive comedic foil, but on its own it gets old quickly. Assuming this is their normal fare, they don't necessarily choose big news stories and don't give much detail about it, which makes the comedy part just sort of a string of juvenile jokes on a theme. The head anchor comes off as thinking that the jokes, the job, and the actual news are all beneath him, so it seems more randomly mean than frothy complaining. If I ever watched any of this, I promptly forgot about it.

Jon Stewart (who was doing other things for the same network at the time) stops by as a guest once or twice, and runs the entire interview. He is capable of not rolling right over people, even when he's the host, but he's not capable of intentionally being boring, so it's not really a surprise.

I spent several deeply unpleasant hours staring at the ceiling trying to work out what it was that got Stewart voted Most Trusted Newsman in America in a TIME Magazine poll after Edward R Murrow died, because as horrifying as it is that a late-night comedian fact-checks his "newscast" more extensively than MSNBC does, it's still not as bad as waiting for the alpha-blockers to fucking wear off.

(MSNBC offends me on aesthetic grounds before I can watch enough to figure out if it offends me on ethical grounds as well. That right there is the television equivalent of that time you let the middle schoolers put together their own little newspaper, and the layout came back looking like a font sampler. They even sound like their TelePrompTer script is in Comic Sans. All the MS* media products seem to be done that way, which raises the alarming prospect that it's stylistic and they're doing it on purpose. This is why I haven't had a Hotmail account in like fifteen years. Note that this is coming from someone who is theoretically in the liberal demographic they're aiming for.)

Ultimately, I think what it comes down to is compassion.

Stewart has a bunch of berserk buttons, some serious, some not. TV Tropes has a(n incomplete) list. The not-serious ones are akin to running jokes, like the New York pizza vs Chicago pizza thing. They make him sputter entertainingly. With heavier news stories, he does sometimes get taken aback by the sheer amount of stupid, petty, power-hungry, money-grubbing shenanigans that happen in the various governments of the world. If it's egregious enough, he'll slip into this fantastic Yinglish-Angrish creole and get completely incomprehensible for a while. But he goes rather quiet when he's genuinely upset. He corpses through so much of the newscast so much of the time, that when he suddenly doesn't, the audience sits up and takes notice.

The one berserk button TV Tropes doesn't list explicitly, the really big one, is seeing other people mistreated.

Stewart makes it funny when politicians lie in the general direction of one another, or spend money stupidly, or have idiotic arguments over terminology and legalese, because governments are made of humans and God knows humans are insane sometimes. But he gets legitimately very stabby when it gets down to real people getting hurt. There's no politicking, no ivory tower academic debate on ethics, no discussion of acceptable losses. He's just angry because hurting people is wrong. And since this is a comedy show, not a news network, he can just fucking say that.

I find it reassuring when my news is read by a human being, no matter how terrible it is. Probably other people do, too. We seem to have lost that in the last... I don't know, thirty years? I was watching some of the live coverage Frank Reynolds did of the 1981 Reagan assassination attempt (see: distracting myself by researching the hell out of something), and Reynolds is clearly rattled by the things he's talking about. He doesn't stop relaying news, although he does also do a very responsible thing you don't see these days: He tells the audience point blank that he has no more information at this time, and then he stops fucking talking and tosses back to the regular daytime programming instead of rambling at anyone they can hang a tie on and sit in front of a camera. He clearly has opinions on what's going on, and they're probably 1) guns + POTUS = bad; 2) one of you goddamn press people at the goddamn White House answer your goddamn telephone already; and 3) STOP HANDING ME PIECES OF PAPER WITH WRONG THINGS ON THEM DAMMIT, in roughly that order. The anchors, all of them, refer to the White House Press Secretary as Jim Brady, not James, when they're distracted. They all know this man, and they are upset that he is bleeding out on the sidewalk. Most of the old hands are having flashbacks to November 1963. They're stressed, and they do their best to keep it professional and factual, but they're human. It's an element that has been intentionally drained out of the 24-hour news networks, but ironically remains in The Daily Show.

You don't go into social satire unless you care how people work. You don't get good at it unless your guesses are pretty accurate. And it is the most compassionate people who get the angriest when the world goes bloody gorram stupid and people get hurt.

One of the more infamous things Stewart has done is, uh, take down CNN's original run of Crossfire. For those of you who don't watch this stuff and can't be arsed to look it up, normally what happens on Crossfire is that they invite on a panel of guests to debate the big, usually partisan, issues, with one left-leaning and one right-leaning moderator to keep them in check. Well, I say 'in check'. The moderators also tended to just sort of jab the cattle prods into the herd at random if they didn't think there was enough arguing. Stewart mentioned in passing on TDS once that he thought their show was an abomination unto news, so they invited him to come down, by himself -- so, two against one -- to "debate" with them.

The result is here. Stewart's summation of it on the next episode of his show is here. A couple months later, CNN quietly canceled the show.

I find it difficult to watch. The comments on clips of that are generally along the lines of, "Yeah! You tell 'em!" and other such gloating over the way he got to point out on national TV that the Crossfire guys were shit-stirring rather than doing anything useful. The madding crowd appreciates what they seem to think is his righteous rage. He is angry -- legitimately, Mr. Bowtie is in fact being a colossal dick to him the whole time -- but mostly I think he looks more and more heartbroken as the clip goes on. I've seen him rant on his own show; he could easily have done a solid half-hour as a monologue entitled 'Your Show Blows Goats: An Analysis, by Jon Stewart'. He doesn't. He tells them their show is terrible, he tells them why he thinks their show is terrible, and then he asks them to change. He wouldn't do that unless he thought the people he was talking to could change, and held out a wee bit of hope that they would.

He wants to believe people are better than that. He wants to believe people can be better than that. Most of all, he wants to believe people want to be better than that. You can see it on his face when he finally realizes that they don't, and he's fallen into some sort of terrible parallel universe where people can't hear him when he talks. He's pissed, and betrayed by his own optimism.

I scared up a copy of Stewart's book -- his book, Naked Pictures of Famous People, not the two Daily Show books, which are undoubtedly funny but not solely his work -- and it's enlightening. Much of it is satirical fiction, which means that much of it is not technically from his own POV. More interesting, several pieces are not from a male POV. I think this may be the first time I have ever seen a man write a humorous essay centered on the female reproductive organs whose theme was not "Vaginas: A Terrifying Mystery".

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