Jon Stewart, who announced on his show tonight that he is going to retire from The Daily Show later this year, had this habit in public life that I found absolutely infuriating until about seven seconds after word of his impending retirement leaked online this evening. Stewart would take some strong political stance on his show, or as a guest on someone else’s show, and then when he was challenged on it, he wouldn’t cede exactly, but he would immediately defend himself with some variation on, “Hey, I’m just a comedian!”
This is common practice for those in comedy, to use real world events as fodder for their routines until push comes to shove. That’s your job, they’d say to the journalist/political commentator/politician who just told him he was wrong, or that if he was really so upset about whatever the issue was, maybe he should get off the sidelines and try to do something. I’m just trying to get some laughs. His famous line was, “C’mon, we’re just the show on after Crank Yankers.” This always struck me as disingenuous, an abdication of the responsibility of someone who certainly seemed to believe what he was saying on television; Stewart wanted the cachet of politics, the source material, but not the exchange of ideas. I thought it led to a sometimes surface-thin view of matters. I thought it limited him.