In which I try to explain American media

For those of you outside of the US who don't understand why Jon Stewart stepping down as host of The Daily Show is such a thing, it's because the program is, er, terrifying influential. I'm given to understand that most of the world gets news from America a lot more than America bothers to read news of the world, but I don't know how much of our context you can guess from it, particularly when the context is batshit insane. If you get television from the UK, it's rather like Mock The Week, only it runs Mon-Thurs for most of the year, so large portions of the program are produced on the sub-24 hr turnaround time of a real news show. I assume there are similar programs pretty much anywhere making fun of your leaders doesn't get you shot.

Next time you sit down to watch MtW, imagine for a moment that you live in a world where citizens aged 18-35 peeled themselves off the sofa and voted in the next general election because they were listening to what made Dara Ó Briain so angry he sputtered through the last half of his monologue. I am not kidding. Real news organizations have considered poaching Daily Show correspondents. NBC tried to recruit Stewart to be the new host of Meet The Press in 2014, one of their flagship shows which has previously been hosted by people like Tim Russert and Tom Brokaw.

As previously mentioned, after the death of Edward R Murrow, Jon Stewart was voted the most trustworthy news anchor in America. This terrifies him. As well it should, when a large part of your job is figuring out how best to phrase your daily news summaries so that you can wedge in just one more cock joke.

Despite the fact that the "correspondents" routinely remind real media figures that they make half this shit up, TDS cast members are frequently invited to serious political events, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert especially. The two of them have no trouble sharing their opinions on camera, but you get the feeling that a lot of the people who book them have vastly overestimated their own intelligence and/or never watched the show, and are unpleasantly surprised.

The Daily Show gets away with a lot. Mostly this has to do with where and when they air. In the US, the Federal Communication Commission gets to dictate content restrictions on broadcast networks, hence why they lost their shit when Janet Jackson almost-but-not-quite flashed a tit at the Superbowl one year. TDS runs on cable, where the FCC cannot do a damn thing. (The idea is that you have to actively seek out and pay for cable, making it an opt-in private provider of content. The audience self-selects for people who want to see whatever the cable channels are putting on. Broadcast TV, on the other hand, is available to anyone with an antenna and a TV set, and is seen as a quasi-public resource.) You can put as many boobies as you want on the screen if people have to sign up to see them. Bleeped words on cable are network policy and not federal law. The show also airs at 11pm, which is considered the start of the "late night" block, when impressionable children (whose parents are competent and actually care what they watch) are supposed to be in bed.

In other words, TDS can air anything that Comedy Central doesn't specifically stop them from putting out. Getting it by the producer is no problem, because the producer is Jon Stewart, and he has decreed that there are no sacred cows. Not even himself. Stewart let it be known very early on that, as the ranking Jew on that soundstage, he hereby granted the correspondents permission to make as many stupid stereotypical Jewish jokes as they wanted. It has resulted in moments like the time Stewart broke a glass on stage and opted to continue the sketch while he tried to stop his hand from bleeding, and John Oliver -- who is Brummie? English of some sort -- got most of the way through his lines before interrupting himself to say, "Don't be so Jewish about it, you're fine." Stewart just about died laughing. The other comedians on the show were quick to follow suit. I was particularly entertained by the way they decided to hand Stephen Colbert, a devout Roman Catholic IRL, host duties for "This Week In God". They also occasionally sink their teeth deep into the hand that feeds them, particularly when the network's parent company Viacom decided to officially support SOPA.

Their headlines segment runs on the same quick cycle as regular news does, so 'too soon' has no real meaning for them. Stewart has occasionally apologized when he reconsiders and feels he's crossed the line with a joke -- or crossed it an odd number of times -- but if they've decided to drop the pretense and treat something as if it's not funny, then it's not fucking funny. When The Daily Show decides that you're too corrupt, incompetent, or just plain cruel to make jokes about anymore, it is (literally) Serious Business.

The spinoff show The Colbert Report has such a tremendous geeky fanbase that Wikipedia used to have a blanket policy of locking edits on any page Colbert mentioned on the air, to try and stem the chaos. Colbert is more interested in culture jamming than Stewart -- he had a tendency to send his followers swarming at random internet polls, and they almost got a bridge in Hungary named after him until he found out that the government wouldn't do that unless he spoke Hungarian, and was already dead -- but they collaborated in several bits, the most notable one being an extended troll of the Securities & Exchange Commission and FCC over the rules (not) regulating what political action committees could spend money on in support of candidates. Colbert ran for POTUS in 2008 (only in South Carolina, his home state) and terrifyingly enough, scored better in the polls than a couple of real candidates on the ticket. (The character he plays is a rabid neo-conservative, but he ran on the left-wing ticket because, as it turns out, buying a slot in the Democratic primaries is way cheaper.) They collaborated in 2010 on the Rally To Restore Sanity and/or Fear, which you can view in its entirety on YouTube.