Jon Stewart: “There will always be room for political satire”

Jon Stewart on The Daily Show in 2015Image copyright
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Jon Stewart left The Daily Show in 2015 after hosting for 16 years.

Launching a new movie at a time when the world faces daunting challenges is “like going into a plane crash with a chocolate bar,” as Jon Stewart put it recently.

“It feels ridiculous,” the former host of The Daily Show told The New York Times. “There is tragedy everywhere and you think, ‘Does anyone want chocolate?'”

The coronavirus pandemic, coupled with global protests over the death of George Floyd in police custody, has left few people frivolous.

But despite his signature self-awareness, the release of Stewart’s new feature film will be well-received by those who miss his presence on the US television landscape.

Stewart, now 57, hosted the satirical news program The Daily Show for 16 years. He was a highly influential figure, drawing a dedicated audience who tuned in every night to hear his cunning interpretation of the stories of the day.

When he left in 2015 (to be succeeded by Trevor Noah), he said he was tired and ready for a new challenge. That is precisely why he embarked on writing and directing Irresistible, a comedy about campaign finance, as he recounted through a run for mayor of a small town in rural Wisconsin.

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Steve Carrell plays political strategist Gary Zimmer in Irresistible

The film, starring Steve Carrell and Rose Byrne, was due to hit theaters this summer, but will now be released online. It may not have been the planned platform, but that’s something Stewart isn’t too concerned about.

“Obviously, having a movie that you made online instead of in theaters is perhaps the greatest tragedy that is happening in our world right now,” he tells BBC News, his tongue firmly on his cheek.

“I mean, I know that people are struggling with the pandemic and hundreds of years of racial injustice, but when are people really going to think how I feel?”

Irresistible sees retired Colonel Jack Hastings (played by Chris Cooper) go viral after making a passionate speech at a town hall meeting in the fictional town of Deerlaken, Wisconsin.

The online video draws the attention of political strategist Gary Zimmer (Carrell), who travels to convince Hastings to run for the Democratic mayor’s seat.

Zimmer sets out to mold Hastings into the perfect candidate, but as his campaign grows in strength, they face competition from Faith Brewster (Byrne), who has been deployed to lead the Republican campaign.

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Rose Byrne has previously starred in Bridesmaids, Peter Rabbit, and the television drama Damages.

One theme the film highlights is how much money can be spent (or possibly wasted) on political campaigns. Without revealing any spoilers, the film’s unexpected ending is something Stewart hopes will challenge traditional political structures that we all take for granted.

“I have spent many years detailing daily weaknesses, and that is a narrow view and is myopic,” says Stewart. “So this was a way to step back and really try to look [politics] as a system Something like the difference between being a climate man and a climatologist.

“So I spent many years as a weather man, and decided to step back and say ‘why forever Raining here? What’s going on?!’ and look at it from that perspective.

“And the key is that, hopefully, the public believes that they are watching this other movie that is buying all the tropes they give us. So when you finally reveal [the ending]You can have that ‘oh, sure, why do we accept this system as it is currently designed?’ “

‘Always room for satire’

Reviews of the movie came out earlier this week, and some critics think Stewart is successful in his mission.

“Taken on its own terms, this cheerfully fun comedy offers incredible entertainment that will wow many with its distortion from both sides,” said David Rooney in The Hollywood Reporter.

But not all of them were won. “Irresistible’s alleged satirical attitude cannot hide the fact that it is artificial, fun and redundant,” wrote Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian.

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The Daily Show won two Emmy Awards in 2015, after Stewart’s final year on the show.

Telegraph’s Tim Robey said: “American politics does an excellent job of satirizing themselves, it’s hard to know where an election comedy like Jon Stewart’s Irresistible comes out on the hunt for an additional purchase. Watching it proves the point: The film is about of climbing a gigantic mountain of a subject, and it just slides repeatedly down the sides. “

The point about real-life politics that goes beyond satire has been made so often in recent years that it has become a cliche. Countless writers and comedians have complained that it is difficult to make fun of a situation that they already consider a parody.

But Stewart thinks there will always be a place for it in society.

“[Charlie] Chaplin became The Great Dictator during World War II, “he notes.” I think there will always be space and the need for that kind of comment.

“But I also think it is the least effective agent of change. So while I think it will always be there, I also think it is what you are seeing now: direct action on the streets produces change,” he says, a reference to recent Black Lives Matter protests.

“The comedy parts are fun to go on the internet, and this movie belongs to that play.”

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Carrell character takes over Jack Hastings’ mayoral campaign

Shooting a movie is a lot of hard work, to put it mildly. The cast and crew work long hours intensively for weeks or months, before the laborious post-production process begins.

But when asked which one is more tiring, writing and directing a movie or hosting a daily talk show, Stewart says, “Hosting a show, hands down. Hands down. You’re 16 years old.

“Now, if I had to work on this movie every day for 16 years, then I’d probably say that’s exhausting, too, but the only thing you get when you do a daily talk show is that it’s not just foreplay. The movie has a Different feeling, you’re working and working, but you don’t get what you get on a TV show, which is the acting and the audience there for you.

“And the reward of working every day was the dessert of being able to act in front of an audience. In a movie you don’t understand it, but you get the calmer pleasure of being able to spend more time making something with a little more nuances than you could when you’re just trying to meet that 6pm deadline. “

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that theaters could reopen starting July 4, as part of the continued reduction of closing restrictions.

But Irresistible continues with its planned online launch this weekend.

“I’m excited that people have a chance to see it, I hope it’s a good distraction,” says Stewart. “You always design a movie for that social response, you love watching it with a group of people, but I also hope it will be nice to watch in the comfort of your own home.”

Irresistible is available to rent on VOD platforms on Friday.