Where have all the comedians gone? Just asking…
Jon Stewart

The U.S./NATO proxy war against Russia in Ukraine has prompted a default line in many places in Western societies but none more prominent perhaps than in comedy, where comic heroes and satirists of the past have now become fawning foils and apologists for the war and for U.S. global aggression. Three of the most prominent examples are former late night talk show hosts Jon Stewart, Steven Colbert, and David Letterman, all of whom have abandoned comedy and opted instead for outright propaganda.

Needless to say, comedy is best and funniest when it is aimed at the powers that be. When it is simply an adjunct to power or worse yet aligned with authority against those who would question it, what was once outright laughter at the revelation of a painful truth becomes instead simply part of a sycophantic echo chamber.

Let’s take the worst offender, the one who has fallen the farthest, Jon Stewart. For over 15 years Stewart, as host of The Daily Show, was the conscience of the nation. A bitterly satirical truthteller about the Iraq War and other U.S. interventions in the period, Stewart was often compared not to other comedians but to a former most beloved media figure, Walter Cronkite, who chronicled the debacle of the U.S. war in Vietnam. He was often fearless in his grilling of administration officials past and present, and his debates and exposure of right-wing misogynists and bigots like Bill O’Reilly.

Stewart bowing before Clinton and Rice.

Stewart has returned to the airwaves with his show supposedly examining fault lines in American society titled The Problem with Jon Stewart. Aptly named because actually, the problem is Jon Stewart. The most disgusting but at the same time most revealing episode had Stewart genuflecting in front of Hilary Clinton and Condoleezza Rice together in their roles as former Secretaries of State. Both are war criminals, with Rice heavily involved in the bogus invasion of Iraq where the pretense of weapons of mass destruction was never validated because the weapons were never found, and Clinton pushing for the ransacking of Libya, which boasted among other social benefits the best education system in Africa, and then crowing about the success (“We Came, We Saw, He Died”) of an invasion that, after Khadafi, turned the country into a land of pilfering warlords and slave traders, all the better in both instances for corporate looting of each country’s assets.

Stewart, instead of questioning each, fawned over them. Even his body language as he either leaned in toward them or slumped in his seat as they both echoed their rationalizing of their actions indicated his new turn toward tortured respectability in this refusal to question their motives at this late date. He participated in their resuscitation for his audience of so-called “liberals” which actually was simply another moment in the enlisting of this audience in the current war consensus by failing to question past wars. It was up to Jimmy Dore, today’s version of what Stewart once was, to expose this travesty, though what the episode did dramatically illustrate, as Rice and Clinton never contradicted each other, was the continuity in U.S. foreign policy despite the supposed “differences” between the Republican Rice and the Democrat Clinton.

Report on Colbert

Steven Colbert cheering on Secretary of War Anthony Blinken.

Also in the “what a falling off is this” category is Steven Colbert whose Colbert Report on Comedy Central was an ingenious nine-year broadside against the lunacies of the far right by Colbert adopting in heightened form the stance of far-right and Fox pundits in a way that skewered them by slightly exaggerating their nonsense. Colbert walked a comic tightrope that mostly succeeded in satirizing their excesses. Not so today. As the host, and David Letterman successor, of The Late Show, Colbert has now become an unwatchable transcriber of U.S. State Department and Democratic Party talking points. In the recently contested Republican vote for Speaker of the House, Colbert went no further than a gloating and constant chiding of that party for the chaos of the multiple votes, when that party is arguably far more democratic than the Democratic “consensus,” achieved through silencing its progressive wing. Also, the right-wing lunatics, and they are that, of Trump’s Freedom Caucus, wrung major concessions from their party, while in a similar instance, the so-called progressives from the Democratic Party refused to delay the vote for Nancy Pelosi and got no concessions. What’s so funny about their lack of gumption which Colbert hails as “unity?”

Rip Van Letterman

Rip Van Letterman.

Speaking of concessions, perhaps the worst concession of all for comedians has been the progressive fall of David Letterman. Letterman’s golden age was his time on NBC which spanned the ’80s and leaked into the early ’90s. This was the period of NBC being ruled by an increasingly ruthless numbers regime at General Electric, which Letterman mocked unceasingly. As he was not promoted to advance to his desired earlier time slot on The Tonight Show, his vicious satire of the network owners increased. However, when he got what he wanted, the coveted earlier late-night spot, though on CBS not on NBC, he “relaxed” the critique and fell into a more moribund role as occasional chider of his new network.

That is nothing like what happened next, where he, with a long Rip Van Winkle beard, now woken from his sleep and reappeared on Netflix as an éminence grise with interviews where he simply fawns over the guest and throws nothing but softballs. A highlight of his golden period was his celebrity interviews in which he was always aware, and made the audience aware, that all that was really going on was the hawking of a product in an entertainment business full of bloated egos. The Netflix show titled My Next Guest Needs No Introduction, a title taken from his previous announcement of guests he would lampoon, this time simply announces he is going to bow in front of their fame and supposed accomplishments.

Where have all the comedians gone? Gone to hell every one. It’s now up to a new generation of truthtellers to replace these soggy remnants of their old selves. However, that task is made more difficult because the “new” Jon Stewarts and Stephen Colberts, comedians like Jimmy Dore and Lee Camp, have been exiled and censored from corporate media and instead now must ply their wares in the hinterlands of independent media. The exile, though, might be a gift, since here they are free to speak truth to power, rather than having to bow and scrape before the corporate masters.

This “Dispatch” is from a new podcast titled I Fought the Law about the lies of corporate media.


Dennis Broe
Dennis Broe

Dennis Broe, a film, television and art critic, is also the author of the Harry Palmer LA Mysteries, the latest volume of which, The House That Buff Built, is about the real estate industry, dispossession, and appropriation in the shaping of “modern” Los Angeles.