By Larry Teren
Jon Stewart is not funny. Dick Gregory and Mort Sahl, funny.
Recently Jon Stewart went on a news talk show on the Fox Cable Network to compare his and Fox’s hidden agenda in their broadcasts. He railed to Chris Wallace, the amiable host, on how disingenuous the cable network was in presenting the news. He kept on emphasizing the point that he was an entertainer first and not a person out to present his opinion on the news. Jon Stewart claimed that he picks on anyone and everyone who deserves it and that if it seems as if the Fox network bears the majority of his criticism, then so be it.
Frankly, he protests too much. The fact is he wraps his brand of entertainment in a faux news-like setting. He goes out of his way to book newsworthy guests for in-depth interviews. And Jon Stewart is an excellent interviewer asking well-thought-out questions. But, we baby boomers are old enough to remember two better political humorists who dished it out without couching their intentions nor need a staff of writers to make them sound eloquent.
Dick Gregory started out as a stand-up comedian and during the mid to late 1960’s, his material took on a harsher edge advocating equal rights for all Americans of any color. No one who paid to hear Dick Gregory perform had any misconceiving his attentions were to kid. Dick Gregory mixed humor with anger and demand for respect. There was a point when he realized that he had a higher calling and never insulted his audience by intimating that he was just joking when he lashed out. For that reason alone, Dick Gregory was always treated with respect by both Black and White audiences.
Mort Sahl was another comic who strayed into talking about topical subject matter, specifically the business of politics. Mort Sahl was one of the few in the late 1950’s and early 60’s who laid the groundwork years later for Saturday Night Live to lampoon politicians on both sides of the spectrum. Mort Sahl, though, offered a low key approach to getting out his message usually by holding a newspaper in front of him and pointing to a page to reinforce his statement of fact. Rarely did Mort Sahl go over the line and directly call someone a liar. His approach was mainly to make people think and let them decide for themselves.
Jon Stewart has gone over that line. He has set himself to be judge and jury and encourage his viewers to react accordingly. His so-called constant lampooning of Glenn Beck and his ilk makes him of the candidates. In other words, he wanted to get to the dance so much he is now a part of it.
Jon Stewart is not old enough to remember how the Smothers Brothers turned themselves from being a very funny comedy team into political statement makers. Those of us in our teens in the late 1960’s were not looking for opinions but funny, ha ha. CBS tossed the brothers despite being very popular because they did not want to deal with equal time requests by those who opposed anti-war and anti-government opinions being expressed on their show.
Jon Stewart has had trouble establishing himself as a film actor. That’s okay- Johnny Carson had the same problem. Jon’s niche is relevant “I told you so” humor. He needs to play fair and be honest with himself and his audience. After all, he is on a comedy network. Get rid of the desk and newsroom motif and stand up like a man or should I say, comic. I wonder what the guy who started political humor commentary over 100 years ago- Will Rogers- would say?