“‘I would found an institution where any person can find instruction in any study’ — now I know why they usually put this shit in Latin,” said Jon Stewart last Friday to a sold-out Barton Hall full of Cornellians. “In English, it sounds like an eight-year-old.”
The most trusted name in fake news, Stewart, from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, delivered two stand-up comedy shows to thousands of students, faculty and staff late Friday night, critiquing not only American politics and religion, but also venting his thoughts about issues such as race relations, gay marriage and technology. Stewart elicited almost constant applause and uproarious laughter from the audience during each show.
Stewart offered a second show after he heard his first scheduled show had sold out in mere hours to a line of ticket buyers stretching across the arts quad.
“To all those people who camped out, I just want to say: I’ve seen my act. It was a huge … mistake. It’s just not that good. Maybe if it was sunny out and like 80. But I thank you so much. I’m delighted to be here in this really frozen hellscape,” Stewart said after he walked onstage wearing cargo pants and a gray T-shirt over a dark blue one with noticeable holes in the sleeves.
Most famous for his political jokes on The Daily Show, Stewart began by reassuring Democratic Cornellians about the November election.
“I know the election was controversial. I know a lot of people, the Democrats in particular, [are] a little sad. They don’t have control of the presidency; they don’t have control of the House; they don’t have control of Congress, judiciary, anything. [They’re] probably wondering when they’re going to bounce back, and here’s the good news … George Bush’s election and the subsequent Republican assention will lead to Jesus coming back,” Stewart said. “When Jesus comes back in the rapture, the righteous will be spirited from the earth. In that moment, I believe, or soon thereafter, Democrats will regain control of the [government].”
In a serious aside, Stewart wondered how gay marriage became such an important political issue.
“How could it possibly be that gay marriage is a wedge issue for anybody other than gay people? How is it that gay marriage became a cultural touchstone, a hot button issue? … Is the right afraid that if gay people openly announce their sexuality that you will have to blow them? … Is the idea that their rhetoric is so powerful and concise that even the most ardent heterosexual, the most testosterone-filled lothario, after a five-minute conversation [with a homosexual] would say, ‘sir, you are very convincing. I have to suck your dick.’ What is the fear?” Stewart asked. “But it’s part of that very strange idea in our government to use these odd social wedge issues that are meaningless but allow them to skirt the issues that they would normally have to deal with in a proactive way.”
Stewart also mentioned his appearance on the CNN show Crossfire, on which he pointed out its apparent shortcomings. The show was cancelled shortly after Stewart’s appearance.
“As far as Crossfire is concerned … Imagine you hate something. And you like to sit at home in your underwear, drinking, and yelling at the T.V. about this thing you hate. And then suddenly, you’re beamed onto the set, and they’re sitting right in front of you. So you think to yourself, ‘oh, I should tell these dudes I hate them,'” Stewart explained. “The problem is, they’re there. And it gets really awkward really fast. Imagine a commercial break where for two-and-a-half minutes, you just sit there like [that].”
“So I’m not necessarily proud of the way that I dealt with it, although I stand by pretty much everything that I said,” Stewart added. “The important thing is, when you call someone a dick on national television, you get a lot of answering machine messages … but as I was leaving, Tucker [Carlson] said to me, ‘You’re not being that funny.’ And I remember thinking, ‘yeah, but tomorrow I’ll go back to being funny, and you’ll still be a dick.'”
Highly political issues were not the only topics Stewart spoke about.
“They’ll advertise beer on national television during the day, every five minutes, but they won’t advertise condoms on national television because it’ll lead young people to have sex,” Stewart said. “It is exact opposite of what they should be doing. Hey, guess what’s the leading cause of sex amongst young people? Beer. How many people here have ever gotten laid because they had too many condoms at a party one night?”
Among a slew of other topics, Stewart joked about Canada, having sex with pi�atas, cloning and masturbation.
President Jeffrey S. Lehman ’77 watched the show from the fourth row. While he does not regularly watch The Daily Show, Lehman said, “I thought [Stewart’s performance] was great … He was really funny.”
When asked whether he thought any part of the show was inappropriate, Lehman laughed. “No, I thought he was completely appropriate for the context,” he added.
One topic that Stewart returned to several times during the show was his take on religion.
“The random and arbitrary assortment of rules that you must display to show your devotion … makes no fucking sense. Why do you have to wear something on your head to prove you’re religious? ‘Well, I’m wearing a yarmulke, I am religious.’ ‘Really? I have a bottle of water on my head. Does that make me a rabbi?'” Stewart asked. “Every religion has these bizarre wardrobe idiosyncrasies. Look at the pope, very nice man. But purely in the fashion sense, the guy’s a hat choice away from being the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan!”
“Jon’s not just a comedian, but also a social critic. His insight into religion made me take a step back and laugh at myself, saying, ‘that’s so true!'” said Manny Rivera ’05 after the show.
When it came to race relations, Stewart was very clear on his stance in the matter.
“I will say this about black people. They should hate us. Black people should hate white people. I mean, I’m glad they’re trying at least to be nice to us. But we really fucked them over almost at every turn. And every time they make something cool, we take it and ruin it. When they made … beautiful cool jazz, and we took it and went, let’s see what Kenny G. will do with it. [We] fucking ruin everything. We’re dicks,” Stewart said.
As the show ended, the words “explosive diarrhea” took on new meaning in attendees’ minds as Stewart vividly described an incident involving his dog.
Viviana Flores ’07, who attended the first show, was surprised and pleased by Stewart’s performance. “I will never look at him the same way again. He’s [actually] down-to-earth,” she said.
“I was expecting him to come out in his suit and tie, but I guess that would have distracted us from the type of humor he was using. So I think an old shirt like the one he [wore] was appropriate for the type of jokes he made,” Rivera added.
Stephanie Train ’08, who sat in the front row with several of her friends wearing T-shirts with “I froze my ass off for Jon Stewart” on them, thought the show was spectacular.
“We camped out for 38 hours to be in the front row for the performance,” Train said. “We’d like the chance to give our shirts to someone and have him sign them, but they don’t seem to be receptive.”
The Cornell University Program Board sponsored the event. No media was permitted to interview Stewart after the show.