(Headline USA) Late night host Jon Stewart, who has plummeted in popularity over the past several years, was awarded the Mark Twain Prize for lifetime achievement in humor this week, and used the opportunity to decry “authoritarianism.”
Stewart was the 23rd recipient of the prize, and was honored at a ceremony littered with dozens of celebrities and political figures, including comedian Dave Chappelle, White House press secretary Jen Psaki, and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.
“There’s a lot of talk right now about what’s going to happen in comedy. You know, there was the slap,” Stewart said, referring to actor Will Smith’s assault of comedian Chris Rock during the Oscars ceremony earlier this year. “But it’s not the fragility of audiences, it’s the leaders. It’s not the Fresh Prince, it’s the crown prince.”
Comedy is “the bellwether,” Stewart continued, “we’re the banana peel in the coal mine.”
“Authoritarianism is the threat to art, theater, poetry,” he said. “What we have is fragile and precious, and the way to guard against it isn’t to change how audiences think, but to change how leaders lead.”
Stewart was once well-regarded as a popular late night show host. He rose to prominence as a standup comic before taking over Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” in 1999, where he started to focus more on politics. He hosted the show for 16 years before leaving to weigh in on leftist social issues.
He recently returned to TV as host of “The Problem with Jon Stewart” on Apple TV+, which has been a miserable failure thus far. About 180,000 U.S. homes saw the show’s first episode within the first seven days, according to the measurement firm Samba TV. But by the fifth episode, only 40,000 U.S. homes tuned in, down 78% from the season premiere.
Surprisingly, though, Stewart has shown traces of self-awareness, recently thanking anyone who happened to tune into his program. “Thank you for watching but my guess is you didn’t,” he said at the end of his premiere episode.
“You’re probably just going to look at aggregated clips of it somewhere, on YouTube, where you pirate ‘Ted Lasso.’ You don’t even know how to get Apple TV, do you?”