Amid the traffic brought upon Cornell by Parents’ Weekend, Barton Hall welcomed students and parents alike with the rare opportunity to see Jon Stewart.
The host of The Daily Show and collegiate America’s favorite political figurehead was quick to disparage Barton’s hospitality: after making the obligatory “Ithaca is in the middle of nowhere” joke — “On the way up I didn’t pass anything I couldn’t milk,” Stewart said — he teased the rudimentary stage setup, the lack of carpeting and Barton’s air hangar acoustics.
Despite his feelings toward the stage, Stewart proved an amiable and charming emcee .
“The most popular major is undecided and your favorite pastime is getting drunk? Mom and Dad, this is what $50,000 a year is getting you,” Stewart said.
Jon Stewart’s story is an unlikely one. Starting as a standup comic, he rose to a writer, host on Comedy Central and a political phenomenon, as evidenced by his wildly successful Rally to Restore Sanity. He has subverted viewers’ expectations of comedy and pushed audiences to examine their sources of information and the protagonists that dominate our political system.
He is able to handle political content without coming off as preachy or compromising comedy, and as the Cornell University Program Board’s star attraction in a semester that includes an intimate performance by Billy Joel, he brought his A-game this past weekend.
Introduced as the primary attraction during Cornell’s Parents’ Weekend, Stewart immediately engaged with the crowd. For example, he asked parents that lucked their way into front row seats about how they dealt with their child leaving for college. This allowed him to segue into stories about his own children throughout the evening, which showcased a family side of Stewart that is rarely revealed on The Daily Show. It was refreshing to see him stray from the political and religious fodder that has become his comedic bread and butter, even if it was only for a couple moments of his routine.
In addition to anecdotes about the developmental disparities between his son and daughter, the changing perspectives children have of their parents and some audience interplay that validated Cornell’s status as GQ’s Douchiest College in America, a majority of Stewart’s performance focused on political polarization.
While Stewart tried to be egalitarian in his insults as usual, his political leanings undoubtedly bled through. When comparing our country’s two latest presidents, his comments about former President George W. Bush had a bit more sting, perhaps due to his masterful imitation of Dubya’s faux-Texan accent. Hell, the worst insult he had for Obama was that he was “too smart” to deal with the American public as president.
By mining his trusted dichotomy of Republicans versus Democrats, one could definitely recognize some of the material from The Daily Show being repeated. Regardless, he had some incisive critiques of the poor political maneuvering of the Democratic Party.
“It’s not that the Republicans are playing chess and the Democrats are playing checkers; it’s that the Republicans are playing chess and the Democrats are in the nurse’s office because they accidentally glued their balls to their thigh again,” Stewart said during the performance on Friday.
Reflecting on the past election cycle, Stewart emphasized the unlikelihood of Obama’s election by comparing Obama’s win, with a foreign-sounding name in a post-9/11 world, to “FDR losing an election to Gaydolf Shitler.” Looking forward, he joked that Mitt Romney’s “best strategy during the debates would be to yield his time and just let everyone else go at it” in the upcoming elections.
Much of Stewart’s finest material arose from his bilateral assault on both religion and science. As expected, he tore into the pick-and-choose nature of the extreme religious right, who choose to protest gay marriage because it is forbidden but neglect to protest Red Lobster’s serving of shellfish, which is also prohibited in Leviticus. He exposed the hypocrisy of the Pope’s lifestyle and the arbitrary nature by which modern religious holidays are constructed, but then switched gears into man’s hubris with technological advances.
Speaking about the Large Hadron Collider, cloning and other increasingly pointless attempts by man to play God, Stewart joked, “Man’s last words on Earth will be, ‘It worked!’”
If there is any grand lesson to be learned from Stewart’s polemic, it is that while the majority of society is sane and rational enough to get along and agree on most issues, the political arena is dominated by extremists who do not represent the views of the people they supposedly serve. Stewart’s faith that most people are in fact sane saves him from the sort of overly-cynical position that hinders similar political commentators, such as Bill Maher.
Stewart may sarcastically apologize to graduating Cornell students for the mess they are inheriting from their parents, but he comes off as someone who believes that humankind is not inherently bad.
Despite all the political discussion, Stewart made no hints toward any political aspirations. It’s truly a shame that he doesn’t: any man who can turn a story about a homeless person masturbating on his front stoop into a poignant tale about perseverance after September 11th would earn my vote, easily.