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Jon Stewart's New Film Is About What's Gone Wrong With American Politics


For 16 years, Jon Stewart's brand of satire exposed the absurdity of American politics.


DREW BIRNS: From Comedy Central's world news headquarters in New York, this is "The Daily Show" with Jon Stewart.


GREENE: I think it is safe to say that faithful viewers of "The Daily Show" have yearned to hear Jon Stewart's voice make sense of what's going on these days, right? Well, tomorrow, he is releasing a new film, a timely comedy that is called "Irresistible." It stars Steve Carell. So when I got the chance to talk to Jon Stewart about this new movie, I had to start by asking, does he miss being on TV right now?

We had a presidential impeachment. We're in a pandemic.

JON STEWART: Are you - David, are you asking to stay in my bunker, because I only have...

GREENE: (Laughter) Is there room for me?

STEWART: I only have mushroom soup for two weeks.

GREENE: No. I mean, and now we're in this moment where the police are killing black men, I mean, continuing to do that. It is a stunning and painful moment in our country. And I think, for many years, people turned to "The Daily Show" for, like, some sense of relief and connection to you. And I get - like, I wonder, are you feeling some responsibility to be that voice in this moment in some way?

STEWART: No, no. I am feeling a responsibility to promote a movie that deals with what I think is one of the issues of our electoral system, and that is it. So it's not like I think, oh, my God. You know what's missing from all this? Me. Like, I don't think that at all. I am a true believer in the non-efficacy of satire. But it's what I do. It's what I make. And I certainly don't believe that the conversation has suffered from a lack of me.

GREENE: So as you might guess, his new movie is a satire. It's about what has gone wrong in American politics. "Irresistible" takes place in small-town Wisconsin, where an otherwise uneventful mayor's race has turned into a national spectacle. Steve Carell's character is a big-time campaign consultant who floods the election with millions of dollars, along with an army of news vans. And as he explains to his candidate's daughter, they've got to play dirty.


STEVE CARELL: (As Gary) We can't win unless it turns out that this town isn't the Mayberry everybody thinks it is.

MACKENZIE DAVIS: (As Diana) But we're the good guys, right?

CARELL: (As Gary) Yeah. We're the good guys.

DAVIS: (As Diana) When they go low...

CARELL: (As Gary) We go high.

DAVIS: (As Diana) Unless we also need to go low, apparently.

CARELL: (As Gary) Only to keep those who would go lower out of power.

DAVIS: (As Diana) So when they go low, we go higher incrementally in relation to how low they went.

CARELL: (As Gary) Regrettably, yes.

GREENE: For Jon Stewart, this movie is merely a comedic glimpse into what he calls the U.S. electoral machine.

STEWART: When you have this perpetual election machine and that machine is fed by this sort of never-ending stream of resources and funding, that becomes Job 1 to keep the machine oiled. It's about liquidity. Our elections have kind of become about liquidity. It's sort of like the Fed. And it continues to grow and grow until it's kind of a bubble. Like, I think, to some extent, we're in an electoral bubble that seems, I would think, impossible to sustain.

GREENE: Was 2016, that election - the presidential election - was that a moment that inspired some of this? Or was our country already going in this direction?

STEWART: Oh, yeah. I think you've got a lot of different things feeding into that system. And one of the big things is the media landscape, which is on the search for narratives. They're trying to tell stories. And those narratives attract attention, you know? You can reduce it to sort of this idea of clickbait.

But that suspense and interest drives the kind of urgency and speed and finance that's going in. So they start to feed on each other. And I think that's kind of where it happens. It's sort of, you know - it's Dwight Eisenhower saying beware the military industrial complex. I think it's, in a smaller extent, beware the media political complex because it unknowingly, I think, exists to self-propagate.

GREENE: I mean, I know you've chewed on this question before. But, I mean, I look back to "The Daily Show." And I, as a journalist, just remember being like, this is someone showing that people can get their news in an entertaining way. This could change the entire landscape. Obviously, the landscape has changed. And I guess I wonder what role do you see yourself as maybe playing in creating this?

STEWART: I'm not sure. I mean, I never thought that we were delivering the news, I guess. So maybe I'm not quite - I think we were delivering criticism of it. We were using, I guess, the language of satire to make commentary on the news. So I guess I would say that we weren't delivering the news in an entertaining way. We were delivering commentary on the news.

GREENE: But, you know, I would interview people. And I would say, you know, where do you get your news? - and expecting them to say, you know, the evening news on NBC or CNN or Fox or maybe NPR. And they would say, I get my news from Jon Stewart. It was definitely a thing. And it always made me want to ask you that.

STEWART: You know, I can't tell you how many times, you know, I get that idea of, you know, people say, you know, what did you guys do when, you know - didn't you make the news entertainment? And isn't that the problem? The thing that we were doing has generally been around forever, which is making fun of the powers that be and the news of the day in a satirical fashion. So to my mind, news became a business. And so if I were to point to - I don't think news is entertaining as much as it is gladiatorial. I view news more as sports than I do entertainment, if that makes sense.

GREENE: Well, Jon Stewart, this has been a lot of fun. And best of luck with the movie. And thanks a lot for talking to us.

STEWART: Thank you so much. And thanks for having me. And I'm sorry to rant.


GREENE: Jon Stewart, his new film is called "Irresistible." It's in theaters and on demand tomorrow. And, oh, by the way, we caught wind that Jon Stewart has been learning to play the drums in his free time.

How's this new hobby going?

STEWART: Dude, it's the best. And I am so bad at it.

GREENE: (Laughter).

STEWART: I'm in one band. It's my drum teacher and his dad. But we never play anywhere except his garage.

GREENE: But, I mean, you know what? It's a great performance.

STEWART: (Laughter) Man, I don't think the neighbors would agree with you.

(SOUNDBITE OF LES MCCANN'S "SUNNY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: June 24, 2020 at 11:00 PM CDT
A previous version of this headline misspelled Jon Stewart's first name as John.