Editor’s Note: At last! A brave essay pointing out some badly neglected verities about two of our most adulated sacred cows, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, whose schtick is supposedly to distill incisive comedy and precious informational insight from the innumerable horrific events that characterize America in its imperial twilight. But is this duo really as indispensable to the political enlightenment of our youthful legions as some would like us to believe? And what is their net political effect? Steve Almond thinks it’s insidiously nefarious, and I agree.
For one thing, I rather doubt that faux radical comics like Messrs. Stewart and Colbert can truly approach the level of eye-opening commentary that made a Lenny Bruce or George Carlin, both fiercely anti-establishmentarian critics of the “American Way of Life” (aka Capitalism) memorable and important. Carlin, in particular, remains irreplaceable as a man who, confounding the odds, grew more hilariously and dangerously antibusiness in his routines the older, more famous and richer he became. Carlin made the bucks—he was no fool, after all—but he refused to sell out. At the time of his death Carlin had perfected some routines that, while gut-splitting funny, were savage in their didacticism about the true face of the American system. Do Stewart and Colbert have any interest in measuring up to that standard? I don’t see either of them following in Carlin’s footprints any time soon—and, mind you, I like Colbert for his occasional courage a whole lot more than Stewart.