Jon Stewart vs. Stephen Colbert

Jon Stewart has made the transition into the post-Bush era much more effectively than his protege, Stephen Colbert.

Joy McCann embeds these clips which most of you have likely seen by now of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert announcing their “competing” rallies in Washington on October 30:

She observes,

It’s a clever premise, but Stephen Colbert makes me sad: I saw every episode of Strangers with Candy (both the great TV series and the regrettable movie): Colbert is a funny, funny guy. And yet, the arrangement with Stewart seems to be that Colbert has to operate in the voice of that snarky character he plays on The Colbert Report. It ties him down like Gulliver, and he just isn’t funny as “that guy.”

While I wouldn’t go quite that far, I agree with Joy’s basic premise.

During the last couple years of the Bush administration, I found Colbert’s show much funnier than Stewart’s.   The faux Bill O’Reilly character was perfect for the time, providing both pretty sharp satire and yet enough warmth to make the jokes appealing to those, like myself, who voted for Bush and supported many of his policies.

There have been plenty of great moments on the show since, most notably his Operation Iraqi Stephen stint and his support for the U.S. Olympic Speedskating Team.  But, there, he largely stepped outside the confines of his character and just used his enormous improvisational talents and likability to good affect.

Stewart, meanwhile, has truly elevated his performance during the Obama administration.   After a few awkward weeks of mostly making the show about the mess that the Republicans have left him, he’s been arguably Obama’s most effective critic.    While obviously supporting the president’s agenda, he’s been merciless about dubious claims, absurd policies, and a general lack of leadership.  Not always needing to be “in character” — or even funny — he’s able to bring the full force of his talents to bear in dissecting the news.

Of course, the Republicans continue to give Stewart plenty of fodder.   And he’s able to hammer them with full force, skewering some of the nonsense coming from the GOP leadership and the Tea Parties, because of the intellectual honesty with which he goes after his own party.

FILED UNDER: Media, Popular Culture, , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. I still find Colbert funny, but it’s apparent that even he has realized that the O’Reilly parody is starting to run it’s course. Partly, that’s because O”Reilly himself is old news to some extent. Of the FNC triumvirate, he’s arguably the most moderate at this point compared to Beck or Hannity. And that’s saying something.

     

  2. LaurenceB says:

    I tend to agree that Colbert can seem tired sometimes, while Stewart stays sharp.  It seems to me that Stewart’s best moments are not when he is skewering Democrats or Republicans, but when he targets the media – particularly Fox News, of course.
    My knock on the Daily Show these days is the quality of the current crop of “correspondents”; which just don’t seem to measure up to the Colbert/Rocca/Carrell/Helms/Corddry standard.  At least not to me.  YMMV
     

  3. James Joyner says:

    My knock on the Daily Show these days is the quality of the current crop of “correspondents”; which just don’t seem to measure up to the Colbert/Rocca/Carrell/Helms/Corddry standard.  At least not to me.  YMMV

    It’s tough to replace the talent of Carrell and Colbert.  I like John Oliver and Larry Wilmore quite a bit and think Wyatt Cenac’s pretty good.  Not a huge fan of Samantha Bee and have no idea what they were thinking with Olivia Munn.

  4. john personna says:

    Both seem funny to me, maybe because I only dip into both shows infrequently.
     
    If I were close I’d go to a Million Moderates’ rally. 😉

  5. Brummagem Joe says:

    The reason Colbert has faded is that it’s simply much more difficult to parody the Obama admin than the Bush gang that couldn’t shoot straight all heavily larded with over the top nationalism and threats of imminent doom. Obama just doesn’t have a cast of characters to compare with Gonzo, Darth Cheney, Stuff happens Rummy, Snowy, fragrant Condi, Brownie, Turd Blossom and their army of clones at the provisional authority not to mention their spear carriers in the media like Billy Kristol, Billy Boy, Strangelove at the WAPO. It’s really that simple.   

  6. reid says:

    Colbert is still funny, and I’d say still funnier overall.  But it is shtick, so it probably gets old for some people.  Stewart gets to just be himself.
     
    I agree with James, I think Oliver and Wilmore are just as good as any of the previous correspondents.  And Jason Jones and Aasif Mandvi are also usually great.  I thought Mo Rocca was eh….

  7. James Joyner says:

    The reason Colbert has faded is that it’s simply much more difficult to parody the Obama admin than the Bush gang

    Stewart hasn’t had any difficulty.

    The problem, again, is that trying to do satire against Democrats while in the character of a Republican blow-hard is painfully hard.

  8. Dave says:

    I love Colbert but Stewart is absolutely insufferable to me. Both shows are sharp in their satire, and for the most part consistent. But when it comes to interviews and actually engaging in real-life issues, Stewart is an absolute waste.
    Colbert’s a legitimate and likable interviewer who gets the best out of his subjects even when he’s pretending not to listen to them (and even when he, not in character, genuinely disagrees with them.) Stewart, on other hand, prances around an interview like a haughty bully, bowling people over with venom and ignorance. He rarely actually listens to people; he just temporarily grants them the floor while he reaches in his brain for the next punch. Colbert’s about 100 times smarter than that smarmy jackass.

  9. Neil Hudelson says:

    ‘It seems to me that Stewart’s best moments are not when he is skewering Democrats or Republicans, but when he targets the media – particularly Fox News, of course.”
     
    I agree largely with this.  If I’m not mistaken, wasn’t the Daily Show conceived as a lampooning of the media, not just in its format (which is obvious) but in its subject matter?  In multiple interviews I believe I’ve heard Stewart refer to the fact that, at its heart, the Daily Show still is a media watchdog, not a political satirist.
     
    And as for the commenters above who enjoy John Oliver, please check out his podcast “The Bugle.”  Its one of the funniest and smartest political/comedy podcasts out on the intertubes.