Trevor Noah not nervous about taking on ‘The Daily Show’

31 Jul 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

10 Things to Know for Friday.

After much media speculation over news that Jon Stewart met with Barack Obama twice during his presidency, The Daily Show host came clean Wednesday night with all the juicy details: “I was brought through the secret White House tunnel entrance at Mount Rushmore,” the host cracked. “It was a round table meeting with the President, Elvis — still alive — Minister Farrakhan and the Area 51 alien.” Clearly relishing the ridiculousness of his momentary place in the 24-hour cable news cycle, Stewart downplayed his visits with Obama, noting first and foremost, they weren’t actually secret.The ascension of Mullah Akhtar Mansoor could widen a split between fighters who want to negotiate with the government and those who want to continue the insurgency.

It’s strange thinking that people my brother’s age who have just graduated from college remember Jon Stewart and “The Daily Show” always being a political institution. The stabbings — allegedly by an ultra-Orthodox Jew recently released after serving time for a similar attack several years ago — are vividly chronicled by an AP photographer. It’s hard to explain to them just how big a deal Stewart’s sudden rise was back during the Bush years, what a shock it was to see Craig Kilborn’s tacky random-riffs-on-the-headlines show turn into the most credible source of news for the millennial generation, why Stewart’s impending retirement feels so momentous and sad. As for the what the pair discussed, Fox News speculated that a crack about a shirtless Vladimir Putin, made not long after Obama warned Russian about further military intervention in Ukraine, was proof the president and host were in cahoots. The social network says it will begin testing a solar-powered drone, the next stage of its campaign to deliver Internet service to remote parts of the world.

I’m one of the college kids who in 2003 and 2004 grabbed onto what seemed like certain cultural anchors of sanity in what felt like a world gone mad. LBJ asked a trouser manufacturer for more space for his private parts — a conversation preserved on tape. “As a historian, you love it,” Goodwin said, because people need to know the public and private sides of historical figures. In actuality, the meeting went more like this, according to Stewart: Obama scolded him for turning young Americans cynical, Stewart explained he was actually “skeptically idealistic,” then they argued about fixing the VA and Healthcare.gov. I remember the sense of despair as the Bush administration systematically took apart the social safety net, as Serious Pundit after Serious Pundit queued up to take their turn explaining why we absolutely had to cave into the neocons’ desire for a pointless war in Iraq, as every day revealed a new headline emphasizing that America was firmly in the hands of the religious right and the establishment left was enthusiastically welcoming our wingnut overlords. For Stewart, the meeting with Obama was no different than those he’s taken with big wigs in finance, tech, news and, even, Billy Joel. “And the general thrust of all those meetings or phone conversations are the same,” Stewart joked. “Basically, it’s this: ‘Jon, why are you such an asshole?'” The only meeting Stewart ever took that actually was secret was, coincidentally, with Fox News president, Roger Ailes.

We were thirsty for any reminder that we hadn’t gone crazy, the world had, that the policies of our leaders were in fact as monstrous and deranged as they seemed to be. Watch Stewart discuss the meetings below, as well as disclose that he’s had plenty of meetings with other people, including Fox News’ Roger Ailes and Billy Joel.

Stewart cracked he was summoned to Ailes’ office by a raven, and illustrated their chat with a clip from Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal in which a character confronts the Grim Reaper. “Was the President of the United States trying to influence or intimidate or flatter me?” Stewart asked. “My guess is, uhh-huh. The late-night game of musical chairs has found new guys (yes, they’re still all men) with Larry Wilmore filling the old “Colbert Report” slot with “The Nightly Show” on Comedy Central, and James Corden taking over “The Late Late Show.” It’s not Stewart’s fault that there has already been so much change going on in late-night TV. Stewart disputed the notion those meetings were secret. “It was openly listed, and I went through the normal White House entrance like everybody else, and I told my mom,” Stewart said. “Something is not a secret just because you don’t know about it.” He dismissed the idea that the conversations had been love-ins.

The guy who came on after the prank call puppets killed CNN’s “Crossfire” just by coming onto the show and telling everyone how intellectually and morally bankrupt it was. Op-Ed after Op-Ed cranked out expressing shock that young people saw a comedian as their “most trusted name in news.” On election night in 2004 more of us tuned in to Comedy Central than to “legitimate” news sources, because none of the legitimate news sources would openly voice the one truth about the election — that the fact that the election was even close after the disasters in Fallujah and the exposé of Abu Ghraib and the lie about Saddam’s WMD proved that our country was mad. You can go all the way back to the David Frost-hosted “That Was the Week That Was,” a BBC show, which aired an American version in 1964-1965, to see an example of pointed comedy and current events. When the results came in for Bush on the night of Nov. 2, 2004, the Serious Pundits — Democrats and Republicans — gathered together to analyze “values voters” and pontificate about how, if you thought about it from the right perspective, it made perfect sense to reelect a warmonger who’d sent thousands of American soldiers to pointless deaths just in case John Kerry might legalize gay marriage. She described the Citizens United Supreme Court decision as “the most poisonous thing that’s happening in our system,” because money is skewing the process.

Mad Max will roar back out of the apocalypse while Mad Men rides off into the sunset, rock’s Antichrist Superstar and hip-hop’s Yeezus will rise again. The pace of change is accelerating: The media landscape of only 10 years ago feels as foreign now as Walter Cronkite telling all of America “That’s the way it is” felt then. While it’s never felt like Stewart or his team have been phoning it in, for a while now, Stewart seemed to his taste for deflating the same targets over and over.

It feels weird today, in a world of a thousand contending voices on Twitter and Tumblr and YouTube, to talk about how much it meant that there was one dude back then telling the truth. But if Stewart was hoping to increase the enlightenment index, well, that didn’t happen. “It’s not like I thought the show wasn’t working any more, or that I didn’t know how to do it,” Stewart said. “It was more, ‘Yup, it’s working. People told him he should run for president himself and were half-serious when they said it. (They made a movie about the concept with Robin Williams.) He felt real in a way that people who made a living talking about politics hardly ever feel. But I’m not getting the same satisfaction.'” Stewart said he was also influenced by “a format that is geared towards following an increasingly redundant process, which is our political process. I was just thinking, ‘Are there other ways to skin this cat?'” While Stewart can look for answers to that question once he steps down, this week TV critics were hearing from the new guy.

He repeatedly defaulted to saying he was “only a comedian,” that he, unlike the people he criticized, was an entertainer and not a scholar or politician or professional analyst and should not be taken seriously. People have criticized that stance as a way to dodge accountability, to have it both ways — to get to call powerful people out while denying that he himself wielded power. The day after Comedy Central announced Noah would succeed Stewart, Noah came under fire for some of his Tweets, which critics condemned as hostile to women and to Jews.

But in Santa Monica Tuesday night, Noah’s stand-up act showed him to be an assured comedian, confident onstage, deftly touching on all sorts of potentially inflammatory topics. Then came the show’s hiatus after Sept. 11, 2001, and Jon Stewart’s moment of sincerity in his returning opening monologue that he never fully walked back from. As the son of a black South African woman and a white European father, who grew up in Soweto in South Africa, Noah had his own take on everything from white American police shooting African Americans to Middle Eastern suicide bombers. Then, almost before we in the audience knew what was going on, the jokes had entirely ceased to be about celebrity gossip and weird local-news-anchor haircuts and started to be about the systematic deceit of the American people. They were able to do what they did because they came in from the entertainment industry, because they started out with no access to official sources and no credibility among the press corps and therefore had nothing to lose.

The issues are not really changing in America and in the world, so really it’s just a different angle that we are looking at things from, and it’s my angle, really, but the show still has its voice. That’s what we are really working on now is finding that out.” Asked for an example, Noah said, “The way you look at comedy depends on your points of view. Barack Obama told Jon Stewart, accurately, that “the only person more overhyped than me is you.” It was like the plot of “Network” playing out in real life. So yes, I wholeheartedly agree with the typical criticisms of Stewart–that he was at his best doing negative “takedowns” of hypocrites and phonies while being mediocre at best when trying to think up solutions.

When it comes to Mike Huckabee commenting on leading Jewish people to the ovens, Jon would come at it from a very different place than I would because I’m more of an outsider into that world, and he isn’t. Yes, the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear was an ultimately content-free piece of flattery for the American public that carelessly threw antiwar activists under the bus and ended on the gross miscalculation of sending us away with an inspirational Kid Rock track. The overwhelming quality I sense from him is how tired he seems, how overwhelmed he is by the burden of having to go be Jon Stewart on camera every day.

His weariness has been a part of his shtick since he slumped down in despair in November 2004; it resurfaces every time he sighs in exhausted exasperation as the coda to another rant about Donald Trump. Today, he bluntly describes his lifestyle of taking down, destroying, eviscerating, etc., as “turd mining” and seems to eagerly look forward to the day he doesn’t have to touch the turds anymore. Look at me, a former insurance company flunky sitting here writing an Op-Ed acting like I’m qualified to analyze Jon Stewart one year after blowing up on Twitter over a game show. Jon Stewart going from B-list entertainer to our generation’s Cronkite arguably foreshadowed a world where anyone can be plucked from obscurity at a moment’s notice.

But, without excusing it, I empathize: Stewart having to play the Messiah, Stewart having to be the Conscience of Liberal America, Stewart facing the impossible task of being some kind of moral standard-bearer while also making people laugh every night. Just as it wasn’t fair for Cenac to bear the responsibility of being the sole Voice of Black America in that writer’s room telling Stewart when he’d gone too far. When Trevor Noah takes over Jon Stewart’s seat he’s going to be part of a much louder, noisier world — one where people have their pick of snarky late-night political commentators riffing on the news, where people on Twitter will be much quicker to fling challenges and objections his way, where there’s not even a semblance of stable media consensus and any asshole who goes viral for any dumb reason can get a writing gig and everyone is yelling at each other all the time.

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