Posted by: Chris | October 4, 2009

The one in which I succumb to a previously mentioned temptation

To the editors:

I was disappointed in the quality of the recently published Christopher Hitchens polemic on Jon Stewart (“Cheap Laughs,” October 2009). Mr. Hitchens seems most concerned with Jon Stewart’s percieved knee-jerking liberalism, hardly a novel complaint but one, as a conservative fan of the Daily Show, I often find underwhelming. However, Mr. Hitchens’ barely bothered to even make that well-worn argument. Instead, he spent the majority of the article demonstrating how Al Franken was a partisan liberal, the connection between the two comedians left simply assumed. Hitchens’ did manage to squeeze two bonafide quotes from Stewart in between all the Franken-bashing, both from a book Jon Stewart wrote in 1998 while working for MTV. The quote Hitchens used to demonstrate Stewart’s debilitating liberal bias unbelievably comes from an essay savaging the Kennedy family as horrible, manipulative people who get away with it all because of their wealth and charm (Chappaquiddick and voter fraud get prominent mentions). He could not even quote-mine the essay properly. Instead, Hitchens excerpted a bit from the first page where JFK acts outrageously anti-Semitic and the Jewish narrator, in the thrall of the “Kennedy mystique”, simply praises him. Somehow, this shows Jon Stewart’s contempt for religion. One wonders how harsh the essay would have been if only Stewart were not a “a hard-bitten and hard-line partisan.”

The Daily Show itself goes largely unmentioned, except to note an appearence by famous writer Christopher Hitchens. Had Hitchens spent more time watching his putative target rather than attacking Stuart Smalley, he would have noticed the show, though certain for and by liberals, regularly mocks its “own side,” especially those in the media. He might have even seen recent statements by known Islamocommies Cliff May and William Kristol praising Stewart as one of the most openminded and interesting interviewers out there.

The second charge, that Stewart prefers for the silly, over-the-top or self-deprecating gag over than the cutting remark, certainly has a lot more truth to it. For example, recent Daily Show episode spent multiple minutes comparing the Iranian holy city Qom to male ejaculate. But ultimately, Stewart and his fellow writers are comedians, not satirists, and their main goal is to make people laugh, not make a point. Indeed, this preference for penis jokes over politics further undermines Hitchens main point, that the Daily Show and its spawn are reflexive attack dogs for the Democrats. It seems Hitchens wishes Stewart were more partisan, not less, but without strict adherence to any one party platform, behaving not unlike a rapscallion British author I can think of. If only the crowds loved that brilliant Brit over the lockstep leftists of Comedy Central, Hitchens truly laments, we would be much better off.

-Chris Adams

Any comments/suggestions? Hopefully Piper Grosswent doesn’t complain about the length.



  1. You might want to read Hitchens’s caption before firing this off: “The smug satire of liberal humorists debases our comedy – and our national conversation.” That makes his essay not about Jon Stewart, and its lengthy discussion of Al Franken – like Jon Stewart, a liberal humorist (therein lies the connection) – more understandable. It also makes your prime beef – that, in a “polemic on Jon Stewart … Hitchens’ … spent the majority of [his time] demonstrating how Al Franken was a partisan liberal,” and he should have “spent more time watching his putative target rather than attacking Stuart Smalley” – sound like a cow.

    Another thing you might do before submitting this is read Hitchens’s essay.

    1. “The quote Hitchens used to demonstrate Stewart’s debilitating liberal bias” doesn’t actually do that. It evidences Stewart’s “attitude towards religion.” Maybe Hitchens ties contempt for religion with reflexive liberalism, but that would be odd.* Even if he did, it isn’t Stewart-Frankin’s contempt for religion that Hitchens finds irritating, it’s their pumping weary, superficial tropes** for laughs from an audience (which includes the comedians themselves) that isn’t quite as educated or above-it-all as it likes to think. (Not as educated because allusions to “brisket and whitefish” are about as far into Jewish culture you can go without losing them, and they don’t know much more about The Bible than that it has two Testaments. Not as above-it-all because the religious left doesn’t come in for criticism as naturally.)

    2. More generally, the essay’s “main point” isn’t that “the Daily Show and its spawn are reflexive attack dogs for the Democrats.” The point is that they are not as clever as they think they are. That they are, in fact, clunky, and have the following they do only because they play to the (albeit milquetoast) prejudices of their audience (who, ironically enough, think themselves prejudice-free). This is (one of two) reasons (Hitchens would say) why your defense of Stewart’s “silly, over-the-top or self-deprecating gag[s]” rings hollow. Obviously, Stewart is a successful comedian who regularly manages “to make people laugh.” Hitchens’s point is that he’s a bad comedian who gets…”Cheap Laughs.” (I say this is one of the reasons. The other is that you defend Stewart by saying he doesn’t aspire to be a satirist. I think Hitchens would (rightly) deny this.)

    Two other, minor problems with your letter (beyond the usual smattering of typos). First, your glib, pop-allusive, “Had Hitchens spent more time watching his putative target rather than attacking Stuart Smalley” makes you sound like someone who’s trying “to confirm that they are – and who can doubt it? – cool enough to ‘get’ the joke” (which, proving as it does Hitchens’s point, doesn’t up your credibility). Second, your suggestion that Hitchens is motivated by envy – “if only the crowds loved that brilliant Brit over the lockstep leftists of Comedy Central, Hitchens truly laments, we would be much better off” – doesn’t square with the fact that Hitchens is one of, perhaps the, most revered journalists (especially among those few whom Hitchens respects). That Hitchens is jealous of Jon Stewart just doesn’t compute, and the charge adds to the impression that you prefer the sound of your own (cloyingly alliterative) voice to making good points.


    ** Hence “the expressions Christian Right [and] Moral Majoriy are automatic laugh cues.”

  2. […] I pwn Chris like he’s made by Roxy […]

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