Jon Stewart: Authoritarian governments are a threat, not a comedy | Entertainment News
By ASHRAF KHALIL, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Jon Stewart, who received the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor from the Kennedy Center, warned late Sunday that speculation about the future of comedy amid heightened public cultural sensitivity ignores a real and lasting threat: authoritarian governments around the world.
“Comedy doesn’t change the world, but it’s an indicator,” Stewart said. “When a company feels threatened, comedians are the first to be fired.”
Stewart pointed to Egyptian comedian Bassem Youssef, whose Stewart-inspired political comedy show brought him both fame and self-imposed exile. Youssef’s story is “an example of the true threat to comedy,” Stewart said.
The intersection of comedy and politics was the main theme as celebrities and comedy royalty gathered to honor Stewart, who set the modern blueprint for mixing topics during his 16 years of hosting the television program “The Daily Show”.
Stewart, the 23rd recipient of the award, was honored in testimonials from fellow comedians and former Mark Twain Award recipients. Stewart himself spoke at Dave Chappelle’s Mark Twain ceremony in 2019, and Chappelle returned the favor.
“It’s a miracle to see you working. You are a cure for the ills of this country,” said Chappelle, who noted that Stewart left “The Daily Show” a year before Donald Trump was elected president.
Stewart, 59, born Jonathan Stuart Leibowitz, rose to prominence as a comedian and host of several failed talk shows before taking over Comedy Central‘s “The Daily Show” in 1999. He became a cultural force and politics while training. his satirical gaze on politics and an increasingly polarized national media.
Several of Sunday’s speakers were former “Daily Show” correspondents, including Samantha Bee, Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert and John Oliver.
Carell described her time on the show as full of “excitement, fear, physical distress and laughter”. He noted that Stewart seemed happy to send him on bizarre missions, including eating Crisco, tending to a trailer of snakes, and drinking Long Island iced tea until he threw up. Stewart, he said, “always supported and encouraged us from the comfort and safety of his office.”
Oliver, meanwhile, sent a video message noting that the real Jon Stewart would never spend “two hours squirming in his seat listening to people tell him how much he means to them.” Therefore, Oliver concluded, Stewart must be dead and he gave a long eulogy.
New Jersey native Bruce Springsteen performed an acoustic version of “Born to Run” and praised Stewart as a patriot determined to speak truth to power.
Stewart’s influence was felt far beyond American borders. Youssef, an Egyptian heart surgeon, launched a modest YouTube show directly modeled on Stewart’s and became an iconic figure during and after Egypt’s 2011 revolution.
Describing his show as “clearly a very cheap knockoff” of “The Daily Show”, Youssef detailed how he appeared on Stewart’s show in 2012 and Stewart came to Cairo to do the same in 2013.
Two weeks after this appearance, the Egyptian military overthrew a democratically elected Islamist president amid mass nationwide protests. Youssef said he asked Stewart how to navigate the changing political climate, and Stewart advised him to stick to his principles even if it got him in trouble or cost him popularity.
Youssef, whose show was eventually canceled and who now lives in the United States, began cursing Stewart from the stage. “I could have been a very rich salesman now!” he shouted with fake anger.
Since retiring from “The Daily Show” in 2015, Stewart has become an avid supporter of a number of social causes and one of the most prominent voices in support of health care for 9/11 first responders in New York. York. He recently returned to television as the host of “The Problem with Jon Stewart” on Apple TV+.
Stewart’s political influence was evident Sunday from a guest list that included House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and White House press secretary Jen Psaki.
Pelosi, on the red carpet before the ceremony, said she interacted with Stewart on several occasions as he lobbied for different causes. She praised his “level of commitment and knowledge” which far exceeded the usual celebrity political involvement.
She also said with a laugh that Stewart was “not a patient man” when he felt his cause was just.
This was the first Mark Twain ceremony since Chappelle’s in 2019. The award skipped 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Apart from this two-year break, the prize has been awarded annually since 1998, with Richard Pryor receiving the first honours.
Other recipients include Carol Burnett (the oldest recipient at 80), Tina Fey (the youngest at 40), Eddie Murphy, Jonathan Winters, George Carlin and Lily Tomlin. 2009 recipient Bill Cosby had his award rescinded in 2018 amid multiple sexual assault allegations.
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