Retirement hasn’t been kind to John Stewart.
Since hanging up his suit in 2014, the former “Daily Show” host of 16-years has popped up on “The Late Show” with Stephen Colbert; he made an epic appearance on the “Daily Show,” now hosted by comedian Trevor Noah; and more recently, he’s prescribed an antidote to America’s chaos with comedian Joe Rogan.
What brought Stewart back into the game? The call of duty.
Stewart can't stay by the wayside while America tears itself apart. And just like Bill Maher, the comedian is starting to steer away from liberal politics and more to the center.
Based on his interview with Rogan, here is Stewart's vision for America.
1. Real Change is Like Turning a Cultural Battleship
“It takes so long to turn our cultural battleship — to get an actually turn is so hard that everything stays the same no matter how mad people get.” — Joe Rogan
Early into the interview, Rogan brought up the point that real change is like turning a battleship — our “cultural battleship” if you would. In recent years no amount of American rage or belief in change has affected much if anything at all.
Rogan believes this time it’s different. So many people are banging against the walls that there’s no way they can’t all burst through. Stewart agrees but warns Rogan that the turning of the battleship is the easy part — the hard part is sustaining it.
“This isn’t going to get fixed with HBO pulling “Gone with the Wind,” said Stewart. “It’s fine, but when you pull a movie no one was planning on watching on a streaming service nobody can find — [it shows] we’re still at the symbolic stage.”
Stewart is hesitant to call this a moment where real change will come about. He blames the leadership which he thinks needs to be the ones to bring about real foundational change.
“This is where leadership becomes such a crucial component. You have this great awakening of energy and it has to be channeled into something lasting and meaningful,” said Stewart. “We have to diagnose the real problem underlying this moment so we don’t make a mistake changing the window dressing. This [change] has to be foundational to create something lasting.”
2. Covid-19 Taught us Who The Real Essential Workers Are
“Who are the essential workers? Who are the ones that are the fabric of our society and culture? Turns out those are the people who are the most poorly compensated in our society.” — Jon Stewart
Rogan and Stewart then switched gears from talking about racial inequality to economic. Covid-19 showed us that our society cannot run without essential workers. No not investors or accountants, but supermarket workers, garbage men, bus drivers, and other public officials. Yet most of these people are poorly compensated at best.
Many of these individuals didn’t have the luxury of staying at home and working off their laptops. Instead, they had to risk their lives and the lives of their loved ones to make a basic living and provide us with essential services.
“The investor class has gotten the break and the working class has gotten minimized. We devalued work while overvaluing investment.”
While I couldn’t imagine a world where I could no longer write — it’s hardly essential when it comes to providing food or keeping society stable.
Stewart finished his point with a conversation he had with a former military friend. He revealed to him that dealing with Covid-19 is the same as going downrange — you don’t feel safe when you go outside. The parallels are horrifying when you see that 84 bus drivers have died from Covid-19.
3. You Have to Ante up For The American Dream
“If you want to buy-in to play a hand for the American Dream — what’s your ante? Well, now they say you have to go to college, so you’re talking about a $200,000 ante just to get in the f***king game.” — Jon Stewart
Rogan and Stewart continued to chat about economic inequality. But they soon began to steer towards addressing the crappy hands many Americans are dealt. Stewart pointed out that black Americans weren’t able to build equity and wealth for generations like white people. Much of that is due to racist government intervention.
Programs like the 1862 Homestead Act promised Americans 160 acres of public land if they paid a modest fee. Black Americans, however, were looped out of the deal and driven out of town due to racial discrimination and violence.
“You start to see the hole we’ve dug for people,” said Stewart. “If we don’t address that hole — we’re not doing anything.”
Later on in the interview, Stewart denounced white people who blame African Americans for not being able to get out of their hole. He believes there’s still a large population of white Americans who blame black misfortune on a “lack of culture and virtue.”
“Hey man if they would just pull their pants up and talk differently, they wouldn’t have such a hard time. They just need to work harder.”
Rogan agreed, it’s a ridiculous perspective.
4. The “But” People
“People tell me the George Floyd thing that was terrible — BUT… No, no, no but, they say he wasn’t an angel, doesn’t matter.” — Jon Stewart
Back to race relations. This time addressing the confederate statues and the recent destruction of them. There are two sides of the argument, the people who say: “Down with those racist statues — those guys supported slavery!”
And those who say: “Ok, BUT that’s apart of history. George Washington owned slaves too — should we really be getting rid of history?”
Statues like the one of Robert E. Lee don’t portray him as an enemy of the United States who fought for slavery. Instead, they say he was a great man, a leader who deserves this idolization.
Stewart brings up that these monuments were built in the early 20th century as a way to strike fear into black people.
“Those things got put up in the 1920s to really lock in Jim Crow. Those aren’t memorials to the dead, their hagiography to war for slavery.”
Rogan chimed in citing that the statues were cheaply made to combat the Civil Rights Movement. The BUT people would argue against this saying: “Yes, BUT [Insert your own ‘BUT’ person Story here].”
5. Nobody Likes to Piss in The Ocean
“You started to feel like you were expected to say something profound [Referring to his reasoning behind leaving the Daily Show]. The weight of feeling like you had to say something meaningful for people, became difficult to navigate.” — Jon Stewart
In a recent New York Times article, Stewart was attributed as one of the leading voices to turn media on its head. Comedian commentators like Stewart steered America’s gaze from political leadership to entertainment.
Comedy wasn't “Three Stooges” gags or a Richard Pryor skit — it started to have real cultural and political sway. Americans began to trust the comedian’s opinions over that of a news anchor or politician. It may seem like fun to be that position, but Stewart said it was too much pressure.
“When Charleston happened or Eric Garner — I had nothing in the tank comedically,” said Stewart. “All I could do is stare into the camera and express sadness.”
Stewart compared much of the late years on the “Daily Show” to pissing in the ocean. You may like it first, but when it’s your job, it begins to get frustrating.
“People began to look at the show like it was supposed to change things and that’s a hard place to be for a comedy show.”
Comedians like Stewart can only do so much. They inspire us with ideas and often point in the right direction. But ultimately it’s up to the citizens to enact real change.
Will the cultural battleship make a real turn? Only time will tell.