I know Jon Stewart’s taken a hiatus for the summer to pursue his filmmaking project, but I cannot let this grievance just simmer in the long days of summer. I have to say this: I cannot stand open letters.
Oh, and I hate you for making me side with Bill O’Reilly.
You see, for the past four years or more, I have been a fervent follower of your nightly “news program”. I admire Jon Stewart’s particular brand of self-effacing wit and incisive interviewing skills. In my freelancing days, my morning ritual was to pour myself a cup of coffee and load your show online on Canada’s Comedy Network website. Before anything else. Well, after breakfast, but after that, definitely. My morning was yours.
I love almost everything about your show. The opening bit with Jon’s curated take on everything that’s absurd, sad, infuriating and funny about our world. His repartee with the “correspondents”. The correspondents. The interviews. Donald Trump jokes.
They’re all gold. You’ve set a benchmark that has sent ripples across the world. You know this.
Jon’s memorable interviews with political leaders, writers, activists and media figures are a hallmark of your show. My god, when Jon has his game face on, he gives some of the real news reporters a run for their money.
And so when Jon had one of his regular, much anticipated palavers with Bill O’Reilly — he of the bullying, arrogant, ignorant and all the other descriptions we designate to Fox News and their ilk — I thought, here we go. In a good way. Anyone can see at this point that Stewart and O’ Reilly have developed a relationship not unlike that of two seasoned dance partners. They’ve got each other’s footwork down to a T. And it’s fun to watch the two argue like two old friends. They’re almost chummy, but still quick on calling out the other’s bullshit.
None of this changes the fact that Bill O’Reilly is an asshole.
And I hate Jon Stewart for making me nod in agreement with Bill O’Reilly.
For much of their last conversation, Stewart was ribbing O’Reilly about his and Fox News’s relentless broadcasting of crude, misleading and shameful fear-mongering of Muslims in America. Jon rightly pointed out that their castigation of a whole group of people for an extreme minority of extremists is not consistent with their own caterwauling about some imagined persecution of gun owners in America. O’Reilly did that thing where he scoffed and sneered and denied and detracted.
All well and good up to this point. Jon had hit most of his marks and was cruising for the home stretch. Then this happened, right before the end [slightly condensed]:
O’Reilly: I have one question for you: did they fire you?
Stewart: I did not get fired!
O’Reilly: Where you going?
Stewart: I’m going to the Middle East.
O’Reilly: To Middle East? To set up an exchange program?
Stewart: I’m going to be directing a movie.
O’Reilly: Who’s going to be here?
Stewart: A young man named Jon Oliver. A British gentleman who’s tremendously talented. You should come in and check up on him.
O’Reilly: Oliver. Is he a Muslim? Are you bringing in a Muslim guy to take care of you?
Stewart: That’s right. I’m bringing in a Muslim guy to take care of me.
O’Reilly: Well, if you really were sincere, you would.
Stewart: I really — WHAT?!
O’Reilly: If you REALLY CARED about THE MUSLIM COMMUNITY, YOU’D BRING IN A SUBSTITUTE MUSLIM HOST!
[Audience cheers. For Bill O’Reilly. What is going on here? Stewart looks away sheepishly.]
O’Reilly: [To audience] Let’s call it for what it is. Put up or shut up. STEWART!
And then some closing banter about this and that.
You see, in any other setting, this would be just another case of Bill O’Reilly trying to shout over his opponent because in his world that’s considered a legitimate way of making a point. But not this time.
This time he still shouted, but he also made a legit point along with it.
And you, the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, had to take that shot right in the nuts because what he said was true. And boy does that hurt.
Your whole bit, up to that point, was about how the media has skewed the perception of Muslim Americans in America. You’ve had segments about racial profiling, about women’s rights, gay marriages… discrimination and privileges in a multitude of their pervasive forms in mainstream America.
And so when O’Reilly challenged you to get a Muslim host, this was your moment to shine. To show that you do walk the talk by Jon pointing out that, “Actually, FYI, we do have a Muslim comic who’s very funny, and he will be hosting the show while I’m away.”
That would have been fucking awesome.
It would have shown the rest of the media that you don’t have to have a straight, white guy to helm a late night show for it to be funny and successful. This is the kind of trailblazing stuff that elevates you above the notch of just an entertaining, satirical show, and into the realm of historical iconography. Not Olivia Munn. Come on.
By featuring a brown person, a Muslim American no less, you would send notice to America that you won’t roll down the well-worn trail of white guys encapsulating what’s going on in the country.
John Oliver and Aasif Mandvi both started work at your show in 2006. Tastes are subjective, but I find both of them hilarious and biting, with my preference leaning slightly towards the latter. Oliver had that fantastic three-part report about gun violence vis-a-vis Australia. I still fondly remember last year’s piece by Aasif Mandvi on a Quebec mining company selling asbestos to India (Mandvi to mining executive: “That’s really fucked up, man. I mean, selling them things that are going to kill them — that’s my family over there. What is the French word for ‘douchebag’? Anybody?” The look on the Quebecois businessman’s face is sans prix.)
If seniority is in play, then the nod should have gone to Samantha Bee. She had put in three full years before the two guys above even started. And she’s still going strong, baby machine and all.
Imagine a woman leading a late night comedy show. That is also fucking awesome. (She’s also a Canadian so that’s like double, triple, aces.)
My personal choice, which I consider to be inspired, would have been to select Larry Wilmore. I think he’d have brought the right balance of incredulity and resignation that I think someone like John Oliver — who always seems to be on the verge of tearing his clothes apart, what with his flustered hair and all — is too wired and caustic to contain. And just a reminder: Wilmore’s black.
The point is, you had many options to consider before you settled on your choice.
I’m sure you had lots of gruelling meetings and brainstorming sessions with your team of producers, writers, correspondents and studio executives to make this call. Maybe you offered the seat to Aasif and his schedule didn’t work out. I find that hard to believe. No comic with an ounce of ambition would pass up on this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
If choosing just one among your talented roster of comics was too hard, then why not just have a rotating cast of hosts? Instead of giving the whole eight weeks to John Oliver, have like two weeks for four of them. Then Al Madrigal also gets a shot, and he’s been on a tear of his own lately. Also, reminder: the Latino demographic. See, also: Jessica Williams.
When you’re based in a city that’s as diverse as New York City, it says a lot about you that your choice for temporarily headlining a show of a straight, white guy is another straight, white guy. It throws a damp blanket on your moralizing, albeit illuminating, satirization of the various injustices ailing the world. On your ideals of progressivism and equity. It gives assholes like O’Reilly the ammunition to return your volleys.
It’s one thing to lampoon Fox News for how they pander to a shrinking audience of old, white men. It’s another to capitulate to your own nightly ratings and Q scores to select what you think is the safest choice. To make sure that whoever you select is going to keep the status quo intact.
At least in Fox’s case they’re being true to who they are.
Anyway, this turned out way longer than I intended. Wishing Jon Stewart all the best for his summer project.
Drifts + Drafts
P.S. Please don’t ever make me side with Bill O’Reilly again. That’s just… yuck.