Outstanding political satire comes to ShowComedy as The Daily Show finally gets a nightly slot in the UAE. Words Matt Pomroy
In May 2007, Al Gore stated that The Daily Show was one of the best places to get news, adding that now, much like in the 13th century, the jester is perhaps the only person who can tell the truth without getting his head cut off. It would be funny if it weren’t true. The Daily Show is not a political news report, it’s a fake news show that lampoons and satirises the politics of the day, and increasingly it’s become the preferred source for people wanting the real story. Like Al Gore said, these days if you try to tell the truth as a journalist then heads can roll, but The Daily Show screens clips and covers stories that, alarmingly, the traditional media shy away from.
The news media in America is failing, and that increasingly complicit nature of many news sources is the driving force for The Daily Show presenter Jon Stewart. Since taking over as host in 1999, Stewart has doubled the viewership by going after the politicians in a way that ‘real’ journalists won’t, or can’t because it doesn’t fit in with the station owner’s agenda. It’s the balance between humour and a real desire for the truth that has made it such a success, but Stewart is genuinely angry and frustrated that he is seemingly doing more than traditional news outlets. ‘On an average day, seven minutes of news happens. Yet there are currently three full-time, 24-hour news networks,’ he bemoaned. ‘I mean, 300 camera crews outside a courthouse to see what Kobe Bryant is wearing while false information used to send our country to war goes unchecked? What the f*** happened?’
Unlike those who snipe from behind the parapet of their own programme, Stewart is happy to face those he accuses. While appearing on CNN’s Crossfire, he criticised the show, telling host Tucker Carlson that it was ‘hurting America’ by reducing important issues to a left versus right screaming match and enabling political spin. When Carlson complained that Stewart did not ask John Kerry substantial questions when Kerry appeared on The Daily Show, Stewart pointed out that he presented a satirical show on Comedy Central and yelled: ‘You’re on CNN! The show that leads into me is puppets making crank phone calls! What is wrong with you? What you do is not honest. What you do is partisan hackery. You have a responsibility to the public discourse, and you fail miserably.’
It’s a strange situation when the likes of CNN and Fox News are increasingly covering soft news, while a goofy comedian on Comedy Central is putting tough questions to world leaders. When The Daily Show managed to persuade President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan to appear as a guest, Stewart served him jasmine tea, and while the President was mid-sip he casually asked him, ‘Where’s Osama Bin Laden?’
It would be the toughest question that he’d face during his whole trip to America. With Stewart on board, the show has won nine Emmy Awards and two Peabody Awards for excellence in broadcasting. Significantly, though, it’s also contributed to the greater factual understanding of the news. The Pew Research Center conducted a survey in April, and it revealed that regular viewers of The Daily Show tend to be more knowledgeable about current affairs than audiences of other news sources, with 54 per cent of The Daily Show viewers scoring in the ‘high knowledge’ range in comparison to 34 per cent of network morning show viewers. There’s a fear (and not just in America) that news is being dumbeddown, marginalised and replaced with light entertainment, but this nightly dose of satire is actually raising issues and attracting people who are tired of the sanitised and spin-heavy news channels. During the 2004 US presidential election, the show received more male viewers in the 18- 34-year-old age demographic than Nightline, Meet The Press and all of the evening news broadcasts. Ultimately though, The Daily Show is just really great fun.
When George W Bush won a second term in 2004, Stewart issued a plea to the President: ‘I’m a comedian whocmakes fun of what I believe to be the absurdities of our government. Make my life difficult. Make this next four years really s*** for me, so that every morning all we can do is come in and go, “Madonna is doing some Kabbalah thing, you wanna do that?” I’d like that. I’m tired.’
That was three years ago. He must be completely exhausted by now, but The Daily Show is still the freshest political satire and the sharpest comedy on our screens. •
For Time Out magazine – for original PDf click here – The Daily Show