I don't remember when I lost the ability to cope with geopolitical news. I know I had to stop falling asleep to the half-hour cycle of CNN Headline News when I moved to college and was shoehorned into a 13'x 15' room with another human who didn't want the TV on all day and night. The flat refusal to read news was sometime later. It was sometime between 9/11, whose coverage I ended up watching on a television in the downstairs lounge right off the dorm lobby, and the second time we (officially) started shelling Iraq. The latter happened while I was on an airplane, and my embargo had been going on long enough that I was pissed at the pilot for announcing that "hostilities [had] commenced" over the PA while we were six miles above the Rockies and I couldn't get away.

(When I landed in Phoenix, I learned that my sister had freaked right the fuck out when the announcement came, terrified that someone was immediately going to shoot down the completely random and unimportant Airbus I happened to be on. And I know this because my mother thought it was a good idea to tell me about it while we were waiting for my baggage. Thanks, guys. You all see now why I think this thing is a congenital defect?)

The receipt of my brilliant communist drugs happened to coincide with Comedy Central rerunning a month-long marathon of every episode of The Daily Show With Jon Stewart on their website. I'm catching up.

Stewart is stepping down as host soon, for the three of you who hadn't heard that yet, hence all the tributes. I was never a regular viewer, but clips from TDS were one of the few ways I could stand to find out what the hell was going on, mainly because I find the production crew's staunch anti-idiotarian stance and willingness to call people out for being colossal hypocrites to be rather comforting. News anchors reciting things in an even tone devoid of reaction creeps me out these days. I know they're just pretending to be impartial -- in both professional reporting and personal reaction -- but somehow it just makes me feel like no one else notices how insane the world is, and if nobody notices, nobody will ever do anything about it.

The news being covered is fifteen years old -- although I occasionally forget that, because right now we are arguing over the same fucking things -- so mainly I just get to sit here and people-watch.

Stewart's retirement makes me sad. Jon Stewart is one of the most intelligent humans I have tripped over anywhere in modern media. I have no idea how he survived almost seventeen years on television as one of those terrible apostates who reads books. (He's notorious for that, in fact. Most talk show hosts get summaries of these things from the publisher or a staffer. If you were on Stewart's show to promote a book, you would quickly realize that not only had he read it from cover to cover before you got there, he had a copy stashed under the desk with a bunch of Post-It markers in it, just in case.) He was willing to be civil -- although not necessarily gentle -- with anyone who was willing to be civil back. A couple years' worth of episodes into the marathon, the most serious I've seen him be with a guest was when he was talking to Spin̈al Tap, and the only interview exchange I've seen him consistently lose was to Kermit the Frog, albeit that was mainly because he lost it when he caught himself leaning forward over the desk to look a felt puppet dead in the eye.

I find it mildly frightening that his comedy news show has won awards for serious journalism, but that's not a problem with Stewart so much as with the rest of the world.

The rest of the correspondents, I can't comment on much. I assume they're pretty bright, or they wouldn't be working on TDS, but Stewart (and on his own show, Stephen Colbert) is the only one I've seen doing one-camera interviews and other stuff where he has to throw out a lot of dialogue in real time. Everyone else does scripted segments; I can assess them as performers, but not really as people. They've all got some decent chops as live actors. The Daily Show is unusual in that they leave in a lot of minor flubs, so you do get to see how they handle tripping over lines or cracking up -- mainly like stand-up comics do, which unsurprising considering that's where most of them come from. Not necessarily gracefully, but with a sort of rueful humility.

The camera catches a lot of things when it pulls back for a commercial break. The performers are all still 'on stage', but off script and just interacting for filler. I knew Stewart and Colbert worked together often, but they genuinely like each other. A lot. It's harder to tell with people like Steve Carrell and Mo Rocca, who are not particularly touchy-feely even for performers, but even early on, Stewart and Colbert are prone to horsing around in each other's personal space. They look like teenagers when the bit is over and they're finally allowed to collapse laughing. I had assumed that the running 'ship joke was written in to highlight Colbert's character getting steadily more and more pompously conservative -- and because conducting a schmoopy, poorly-concealed love affair might be the single most hilariously inappropriate thing to do on a "news" show -- but it apparently just comes from the two of them being really pawsy.

It also turns out that Lewis Black, when not in the middle of a monologue, smiles. Whodathunk.

Stewart went gray quickly, doing this job. Or stopped dying it. Possibly because he thought it made him look more distinguished. Not that it looks bad with the shock of gray in the front and the streaks at the temples, but I get the feeling he's not the kind of guy who would realize that he already looked exactly distinguished enough to do his job, inasmuch as he basically invented that job and is consequently the one setting the standards.

As far as I know, they are airing every episode that he hosted, including the ones where Stewart decides he does not want to be funny at all. When your entire job is to mock almost literally everything that crosses your desk -- and you do it very very well for a lot of years -- those moments when you drop everything, face front, and deliver a "what the FUCK is WRONG with everyone" piece directly to camera make quite an impact. He wants to have some kind of faith in people, I think, and he is so disappointed when the human race fails to live up to that. Being a comedian and a satirist, Stewart is allowed to do things like, as he put it, "slobber all over [him]self and the desk", just like 'real' reporters aren't.

On a minor technical note, I didn't realize you were specifically supposed to clip a lav mic to the actor's off-hand side. Stewart is a southpaw and he's got the mic consistently on his right lapel, where pretty much everyone else has it on their left. I assume they do it so there's less chance he'll whack the pickup by accident when gesturing. Little they can do about him dropping his head down on the desk out of sheer embarrassment over the state of humanity, though.


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