Jon Stewart has been absent from television during this election cycle, but Monday at the University of Chicago, the former “Daily Show” host weighed in on the political landscape with his trademark mix of intellectualism, humor and disbelief at the state of the universe.
Speaking to former Obama right-hand David Axelrod during live-taping of the podcast “The Axe-Files,” Stewart insisted he did not miss being on television.
“I’m not restless,” Stewart said. “When you are in that soup it is very hard not to begin to think that the world functions on that currency.” He hopes to release his new project, a series of videos for HBO, in September, but isn’t making any promises.
“I’m not going to be on television,” Stewart said. “We are working on technology and animation to do interesting little small bits. I’d love to have it ready by September but not necessarily for the election. The October surprise in this election is not a two-minute cartoon that I’m going to release.”
Stewart also didn’t take Axelrod’s bait that he was somehow letting the American people down. “I’ll vote,” he promised. “Television is rife with beautiful satire.”
In an hour-long conversation with Axelrod, Stewart opined on Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Democrats, talk radio and Larry Wilmore.
Below, the highlights:
This election isn’t any wackier than when McCain/Palin were running.
“We talk about it as though it is something incredibly different but how different is it? The media, as usual, is focusing on the wrong things and abdicating responsibility for the general filtration of toxicity. You have enormous amounts of money flowing into crazy people… If you took Sarah Palin’s head and jammed it onto Donald Trump’s body, would it look any different?”
The fear-mongering on talk radio can help explain Donald Trump’s popularity.
“Donald Trump makes sense if you view it through the prism of talk radio. It is 24-7 of ‘Your country is being taken away from you.’ … In some ways, [Donald Trump] is a natural reaction to fear. If you have that fear stoked on a daily basis at an incredibly high pitch, and this is not, ‘We really need to do something about this country, we are facing some difficult problems,’ this is — ‘You are run by a tyrant, he is going to take away your rights, we are failing, there are rapists and murderers at the border, and they are coming to kill you.’ If that’s what you have been fed Donald Trump makes more sense than anyone else out there.”
Donald Trump is a man baby whose real name is F–kface Von Clownstick.
“I don’t know if Donald Trump is eligible… Are you eligible to run if you are a man baby, or a baby man? I’m not here to be politically incorrect, if they are referred to as man baby Americans. But he is a man baby. He has the physical countenance of a man and a baby’s temperament and hands….Donald Trump’s real name is, I don’t know if you even know this, is F–kface Von Clownstick.”
The media needs to be harder on the American people for being jerks.
“[The media is] covering the campaign, but they are not covering veracity. So the exit polls say, ‘This is what people think,’ someone in the press has to come out and say, ‘Wow, people must be assholes, because that is not okay to think.’ It’s not okay to have nostalgia for the ‘Mad Men’ society, and think that ignorance is virtue.”
The Republicans in Congress are what is actually wrong with the United States.
“The problems in this country are not because of Mexicans and Muslims…you have one party in America whose sole purpose is to freeze the government, and to not to fix any of the problems associated with it. They have a great game going, which is ‘government sucks and can’t get the job done.’ And then they can sit and point to their destruction as evidence of their thesis.”
The audience at the White House Correspondents Dinner missed Larry Wilmore’s point that Washington is corrupt.
“I don’t think [Larry Wilmore] gives a shit [that he won’t be asked back]. When you watch the post-show analysis it was all based on whether or not he has helped himself. How the room had read it, and in no way and examination of the foundation of what he was saying, which was, ‘You are an incredibly corrupt and blinded symbiotic terrarium.’…What they noticed was he didn’t get that many laughs, he really bombed.”
Television journalism is a parasite.
“Television journalism was ahead of the game at the Nixon-Kennedy debate…Since then an entire industry has risen up as to how to manipulate and skew that medium to the advantage of the politicians and the powerful. And the industry, in some ways, rather than creating a counterweight to that, has been subsumed by that. The media is no longer predator and prey, which I think should be the relationship, but a remora that are just attached underneath hoping for crumbs that fall off the shark.”
Hillary Clinton would be more appealing if she seemed real.
“I imagine her to be a very bright woman without the courage of her convictions, because I’m not even sure what they are. When I watch her campaign, it reminds me of Magic Johnson’s talk show…Magic Johnson was a charming individual, but he wasn’t a talk show host. When you watched his show you could almost see Arsenio’s advice to him in real-time rendering…But it never seemed authentic and real to his personality. It seemed he was wearing an outfit designed by someone else for someone else to be someone else. That is not to say she is not preferable to Donald Trump, because at this point I would vote for Mr. T over Donald Trump. But I think she will be in big trouble if she can’t find a way. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe a real person doesn’t exist underneath there. I don’t know.”
Democrats are also to blame for the rise of Donald Trump.
“The door is open to an asshole like Donald Trump because the Democrats haven’t done enough to show people that government, that can be effective for people, can be efficient for people. And if you can’t do that, then you’ve lost the right to make that change, and someone’s going to come in and demagogue you.”
Comedy shouldn’t be mistaken for activism.
“Shame can be a final gust of wind. Comedy can’t have an impact on policy, people can have an impact on policy. Grassroots lobbying, foundational lobbying… If there’s one moment that could help the guy that has made it his life’s work something this profound, if you can somehow focus energy on that moment at just the right time it can be catalyzing, but it in no way can be mistaken for activism. Comedy and satire are an expression, they are an artistic idea, they are not activism. It is not anything other than a painting, a song, a joke. None of those can change anything. They can occasionally focus a conversation at a crucial moment and help the good work of all the good individuals at that moment. Nothing we ever did meant anything compared to the people on the ground in grassroots who worked tirelessly in anonymity against all odds to do what is right and had to do that facing headwinds that shouldn’t be there in the first place, that are artificial.”
We need a 24-hour news network that can be a counterweight to Fox and CNN.
“Fox has found a way to work their ideology into the business model. CNN doesn’t have an ideology other than narrating the news as it happens outside without knowing why. MSNBC would like to have the clarity of their ideology mesh with making money, but so far that hasn’t worked out. But I think, again, news isn’t just another commodity that is placed on your cable box, and the concerted effort has to be to remove it from that system, to create a 24-hour news network that can be a powerful counterweight. A Fox News of veracity, where it is not so reliant on the daily ecstasies of ratings but is still interesting and is still good television, and I think it can be done.”