Jon Stewart: Authoritarian governments are a threat, and not comedy

Jon Stewart accepted the Kennedy Center's Mark Twain Award for American Humor. He warned that speculation about comedy's future amid growing cultural sensibility was not addressing a real threat: authoritarian governments all over the globe.

Muhammed Kayan
Muhammed Kayan
27 April 2022 Wednesday 09:21
1104 Reads
Jon Stewart: Authoritarian governments are a threat, and not comedy

Stewart stated, "Comedy does not change the world. But it is a bellwether." Comedy is who gets sent home first when a society feels threatened.

Stewart referred to Egyptian comedian Bassem Youssef whose Stewart-inspiring political comedy show won him fame and exile. Stewart stated that Youssef's story was "an example the true threat to comedy."

Celebrities and comedy royalty came together to honor Stewart, the man who established the modern model for mixing politics and comedy during his 16-year tenure hosting TV's "The Daily Show."

Stewart was the 23rd prize recipient. He was recognized in testimonials by comedians and past Mark Twain Prize winners. Stewart spoke at the 2019 Mark Twain ceremony hosted by Dave Chappelle. Chappelle then returned the favor.

It is amazing to see you at work. "You are the cure for all that is wrong with this country," Chappelle said. He noted that Stewart had resigned from "The Daily Show" one-year before Donald Trump's election.

Stewart, a 59-year old standup comedian and host of many failed talk shows, rose to fame before taking over Comedy Central's "The Daily Show." In 1999. His satirical focus on politics and a more polarized media made him a cultural and political power.

Many of Sunday's speakers were ex-"Daily Show” correspondents including Samantha Bee and Stephen Colbert, as well as John Oliver and Stephen Carell.

Carell described his time on The Apprentice as filled with "excitement", fear, physical distress, laughter, and anxiety. He also noted that Stewart seemed to enjoy sending him on strange assignments, including eating Crisco and dealing with a trailer full of snakes. Stewart was, he claimed, "always supporting and always cheering on us from the safety and comfort of his office."

Oliver sent in a video message pointing out that Jon Stewart was not going to spend two hours sitting in one's seat, listening to people tell him how important they are to him.

Bruce Springsteen, a fellow New Jersey native, performed an acoustic rendition of "Born to Run" to praise Stewart for being a patriotic man who will speak truth to power.

Stewart's influence was felt far outside of America. An Egyptian heart surgeon, Youssef started a YouTube channel that was directly inspired by Stewart. It became an iconic figure in Egypt during and after 2011's revolution.

Youssef described his show as "clearly an extremely cheap knockoff of "The Daily Show" and explained how Stewart appeared on him in 2012, and Stewart visited Cairo in 2013 to do the same.

The Egyptian military overthrew an elected Islamist president two weeks later amid massive protests. Stewart told Youssef that he had asked him how to navigate the changing political climate.

Youssef, who was later forced to cancel his show and now lives in the U.S.A., started cursing Stewart from the stage. He yelled in mock anger, "I could have sold-out very well by now!"

Stewart, who retired from "The Daily Show in 2015," has been a vocal advocate for a variety of social causes. He is also one of the most prominent voices supporting health care for 9/11 first responders in New York City. Stewart recently hosted "The Problem with Jon Stewart", an Apple TV+ show.

Stewart's influence on politics was evident Sunday at a party that featured House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, as well as White House press secretary Jen Psaki.

Pelosi stated that Stewart had spoken to her on numerous occasions, while she was lobbying for different causes. Pelosi praised Stewart's "level of dedication and knowledge", which was far more than the usual celebrity involvement in politics.

She laughed and said Stewart was "not a patient person" when he believes his cause is just.

This was the first Mark Twain award ceremony since Chappelle's 2019 ceremony. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the award was not presented in 2020 or 2021. The prize is presented every year since 1998. Richard Pryor received the first honors.

Carol Burnett, who is the oldest recipient at 80, Tina Fey, at 40, Eddie Murphy, Jonathan Winters and George Carlin are other recipients. In 2018, Bill Cosby, 2009 recipient, had his prize withdrawn due to multiple accusations of sexual assault.


 

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