Sunday, November 19, 2006

Thank You, Jon

Jon Stewart played Santa Barbara Saturday night, as if he were just some stand-up and the UCSB Events Center were just some comedy club. Of course neither of these is true--it was hard heading in (especially at $90 a ticket, and there were more expensive seats than that) to imagine Stewart could do 75 minutes without any video tape to riff from, just as it was hard to imagine he could fill a 4,000 seat auditorium with his solo presence.

Well, it's not like being wrong about WMDs, but I was very wrong about Stewart. It was more or less a feel sore from laughing kind of evening, even in a basketball arena, and I didn't feel the need to watch the video screen broadcast of him much, even. Atlhough folks--especially students--in the cheaper seats probably felt differently, I figured I couldn't gripe about my seat location too much, as we were sitting directly behind Jeff Bridges. Turns out the Dude finds Stewart hilarious.

After his introductory jokes about UCSB, making fun of the school's mascot--the Gauchos--especially after finding out a Gaucho is an Argentinean cowboy (clearly superior to the Brazilian cowboy, he quipped), he moved right into his Daily Show bread and butter, politics. Indeed, he set up his basic position for the evening--80% of America is moderate, and unfortunately we are governed by the other 20%. (This approach would also serve his religion v. science routine later on.) Although he did get to his "heh-heh" Bush impersonation, and jokes about Rumsfeld and Cheney ("The man hasn't been right once in six years. Then he shot an old man in the face. Would you still have your job if you did that?"), he also did an extended segment on gay marriage, truly puzzled why it bugs (no, not buggers) folks so much. He joked about how Leviticus tosses about abominations like ums and uhs, stressing it calls shellfish an abomination, too. Then he said, "How come you never see one of those anti-gay protesters with a sign, 'Death to Fags...and Scallops'?" Later, in just one of the off-color moments he wondered, "What can bother them so much about gays? Does someone hear the distant sound of one man's balls slapping into another man's ass--wap, wap, wap, wap--and then say, 'Hey, I'm trying to work here?'"

As with the Daily Show, as good as the material was much of it was put over by his delivery. Stewart still seems like an eveyman, just handsome enough but not too handsome, just young enough but not too, just smart enough, but no pedant. He pauses, times, stresses, frets, speeds, whatever is necessary to get more mileage out of a line. While even he belittles his acting career in films like Death to Smoochy, Half Baked and Mixed Nuts, he has learned to play Jon Stewart after all these years. So in addition to the brilliant timing, he's also poised himself as the middle's voice, which turns out to seem radical only because we've had 12 years of the middle ever moving rightward. As much as I'd like to claim him for us progressives, he really isn't.

After the political material, he traveled some very traditional--if traditionally funny--material, from pot to condoms ("I know they say if we teach kids about condoms, it will make them want to have sex, but beer is ok. I don't know, I never heard someone had too many condoms and woke up in bed someone."). Live he also plays up the Jewish comedian thing much more than on his show, but still attacked any sort of religious extremism. Although he warned us not to call yarmulkes Jew beanies, he also didn't understand the sense that wearing something on your head made you holier. Indeed, he put one of his water bottles on his head and said, "See, now I pay tribute to god and offer him a refreshing drink." This material worked, particularly as he was always ready to run meta-commentary on it (the largest difference between Stewart and Colbert--even when Colbert's schtick doesn't work, he never breaks character; Stewart is always ready to joke about the guy on stage, even if he's the guy). After some Jewish jokes he turned to the Pope and when one joke didn't get quite as many laughs he said, "Oh, I see, Jewish joke funny, the Pope not so much."

For a semi-encore, as he left the stage to a thunderous standing O, he came back and told us one last story about New York, and his life living in an apartment 10 blocks form the World Trade Center, hoping to come back to some normalcy after 9/11. He said Mayor Guiliani (and he said the name as if he bit into a lemon, so he might not be a progressive, but he hasn't lost all sense) had said, "Keep acting like things are ok, and eventually they will be." Stewart found this hard to believe but tried. And then, three weeks after the horrible event he left his apartment building "and a homeless man was masturbating right on my doorstep. He didn't even stop, just looked me in the eye and kept going. And right then I knew we were going to be alright."

That does sort of sum up much of the world right now--people out pleasuring only themselves, and we can't just get in their way. But if we tell our stories about it, it gives us some kind of oppositionary strength, especially when our laughter rises. That's the Daily Show we all get to be stars of.

8 Comments:

Anonymous dagfin said...

Hey, thanks for the review of JS. I would love to have been there, but was feeling too cheap. This helped. I always appreciate your insight.

12:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ditto- I love Jon Stewart and i'm so bummed I couldn't go. Thanks for the recap.

9:14 AM  
Anonymous Mike said...

Sounds like a great evening.

9:43 AM  
Anonymous Tessitura said...

woohoo it was great fun...did you kick the "dudes" chair a couple of times while laughing...I hope so.

bye

3:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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10:21 PM  
Anonymous pat said...

Liked your recap very much. I saw JS at a live show recently myself--about a month or so ago in CT--likewise, it was a great event.

I find it interesting, though, when people are surprised that Jon's so good at standup, as that's how he started--and it was the staple of his career for years (talk shows and movies that didn't work out so well aside). Early on, he was often compared to Lenny Bruce, albeit a kinder, gentler version. I have fond memories of an HBO special he did, "Unleavened," that I'd like to see again. He has longterm fans who think The Daily Show has actually been detrimental for him, as it doesn't fully use his comedic abilities (I love the show, myself).

It's also interesting that you feel you can't claim him for the "progressives"--it seems like a lot of people wish he was personally more political (hence the "Stewart for President" stuff). What stands out for me about him is no matter what his rants, who he satirizes or how "blue" (or off-color) his act becomes, he always appears to stand for civility and decency over ego and partisanship. If that's really who he is, it's pretty amazing.

8:17 AM  
Blogger George said...

Pat, thanks for the kind words. I know he started in stand-up, but I figured the difference of "response comedy," as you might call The Daily Show, might dim his stand-up fire.

Oh, and he definitely stands for civility. From what I heard, the presenter here had hoped to use him for a big donor event to raise money and his reply was that he'd only meet with a handful of donors, but otherwise would meet with as many staff of the presenter and students as they wanted. That's a nice guy.

9:53 AM  
Anonymous pat said...

George, thanks yourself for responding. And your anecdote just reinforces a lot of the stories I've heard about JS in recent years (I'm a magazine editor who focuses on arts/entertainment, so I come across a lot of stuff about a lot of people).

Anyway, your UC story reminds me of one I heard regarding TDS's week of pre-midterm election shows in Ohio. JS was supposed to fly there the Saturday before for a free student event that night at the University of Ohio, but the weather in the Northeast was so bad that day that most flights out of New York were cancelled. So Jon drove himself the 7-plus hours from NY to Ohio in order to make the show.

I also like the fact that he assisted his writers in joining a union for the first time this year, which put their salaries on a par with the writers for Conan O'Brien and David Letterman. The union specifically credited JS for all the work he put in to ensure that his writers achieved the union agreement they wanted. I'm pretty sure this is the kind of thing my own bosses would *not* do.

Once of these days we may find out that JS has been doing unconscionable things to puppies all these years, but for now, he's one who represents a nice change from the usual celebrity news.

8:23 AM  

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