Friday, February 13, 2015

The Justified Bully

In the 1980s, HBO presented a comedy series called "Not Necessarily the News." In it, pretend anchors used real news clips but altered them for laughs.

Cleverly inserted shots that the HBO show produced, interspersed with the actual clips, would be used for gags.

Of course, the notion of fake news on TV was hardly new at that time. "Saturday Night Live" began the trend in earnest with its signature Weekend Update segment not long after "SNL" debuted in 1975.

While "NNTN" was playful and Weekend Update was very sarcastic, always delivered with a wink and a smirk, there was still further to go in the fake news genre.

Enter Comedy Central's "The Daily Show."

Where "NNTN" was produced sporadically and Weekend Update was weekly (during the "SNL" season), "The Daily Show" was exactly that---daily.

But that's hardly where the delineation ended.

"TDS"'s Jon Stewart was not part of a host rotation, like Weekend Update's, which helped make stars out of everyone from Bill Murray to Dennis Miller to Seth Myers.

Weekend Update has always been presented in a breezy five minutes or so, while "TDS" has always been 30 minutes in length.

Stewart is one of two hosts that "TDS" has ever known (Craig Kilborn began when the show began in 1996 and Stewart took over by 1999), and he stunned his audience with the announcement this week that this will be the year that he steps down.

Kudos should continue to go to Kilborn, the ESPN grad whose smarmy delivery would forever brand "TDS," but it was Stewart's intellectually sharp, biting humor and longevity that cemented "TDS"'s perpetual place in television comedy history.

"TDS" has been guested by a gaggle of political figures and other celebrities over the years, many of whom have been eager to share the stage with Stewart and engage in the ensuing repartee.

Such was the popularity of Stewart's show that it spawned spin-offs, like Stephen Colbert's "The Colbert Report" and "The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore."

Stewart never hesitated to point out the absurdity and hypocrisy of politics, social issues and celebrity. He used his host's chair as a bully pulpit, but it always seemed that those he bullied deserved it. Stewart possessed the incredibly difficult knack of being biting but not mean-spirited. He never tweaked anyone just for cheap laughs.



I believe that the ability to jab someone in a pointed way but sans brutality added to the humor of "TDS." Stewart was no insult comic---he wasn't Don Rickles sitting behind a desk.

Stewart was so entrenched as "TDS" host that it was easy to forget that he wasn't one of the mainstream news anchors, but instead a gifted comedian and an actor/director whose career on the big screen is nothing to sneeze at either.

Comedians will tell you that the beauty of their craft turns up when their material practically writes itself.

Stewart didn't have to try very hard to pull laughs from the daily headlines; so much of what goes on is good fodder. But that doesn't minimize his contribution to television comedy.

Jon Stewart's "TDS" not only poked fun at the news and newsmakers, it illuminated the injustices, ridiculousness and shamelessness bubbling just below the surface of them both.

Stewart pulled no punches, but at least those he tattooed had it coming.

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