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Learning from laughter

My appreciation for Jon Stewart


When it comes to comedy, my laughter results after two common thoughts on the subject at play: one being, “Gee, I have never thought of it that way,” or more commonly, “Wow, I’ve always thought of it that way but never quite been able to articulate it like so.”Eleanor Van Buren

My acknowledgements reflect the certain ingenuity that lies at the heart of comedy, which is no doubt an avocation for thinkers.

Comedy is a professional business, too, as careers are built and television series launched. Comedy is also personal, as our stories thrive with comedic relief. It is true: Comedy takes great pleasure in our existence, and we in turn embrace laughter and light-heartedness as a part of human nature.

Couple our love of laughter with our innate love of learning. What results is a unique hybrid of undeniable fascination. The comedian that best captures this hybrid is Jon Stewart, host of the mock news show, “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” on Comedy Central. I believe Stewart offers an education of sorts, from current events to political awareness to social issues, though he is the first to admit that his show does not aim to act as a credible news source.

I began watching “The Daily Show” two years ago, after a couple of satirical episodes grooved with my satirical sophomore self. Soon, I was swept into current events, domestic and international, such as Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring as well as a seemingly favorite topic of ridicule: American politics. Most of all, Stewart and the writers of “The Daily Show” demonstrate the principle function of comedy: to make both something out of nothing and nothing out of something.

Here is one example of the first part of the principle function of comedy (making something out of nothing) at display. Outraged at a rather nonchalant eating habit, Stewart slammed Donald Trump for not only taking former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin to an inauthentic New York City pizza chain but also cutting his pizza slices using a fork and knife in June 2011.

Perhaps my favorite aspect of the show is the News Team, correspondents made up of comedians who conduct interviews or “live” reporting as well as make guest appearances at Stewart’s desk. The dynamic between the correspondents and Stewart give a news show feel, but it doesn’t take long for the viewer to understand that this is indeed a comedy show.

For example, in an April 2012 segment, News Team correspondent Jessica Williams reported that “deforestation” is threatening the ecosystem of the dwindling global population of pubic lice. Of course this “news” is real, but the fictional urgency is what makes it comedy and not a concern.

How can serious, concerning news be a joke? Insert the second part of the principle function of comedy. During Occupy Wall Street in November 2011, News Team correspondent Samantha Bee visited Zuccotti Park in New York City to report the division between the “uptown elitists” and the “downtown poors,” an ironic portrayal of a singular movement united by the cause to protest income equality.

After interviewing both sides of the divided park (Brooklyn hipsters vs. unemployed egalitarians), Bee poses the question, “Is there a course in condescension that everyone is taking here?” to one of the “aristocratic” interviewees. Before he has time to realize the question and respond, the camera cuts to the next scene and the viewer is left laughing at his dumbly agreeable face. Occupy Wall Street was a legitimate struggle, but it’s not exempt from jest.

Featured in many of “The Daily Show” interviews, my favorite moments involve offensively presumptuous questions or misleading exaggerations as commentary. One of the best News Team correspondents at achieving such moments on screen is John Oliver.

Oliver is currently the interim host of “The Daily Show,” as Stewart recently began his three-month hiatus to direct his first feature film, “Rosewater.” For all my love of the News Team correspondents, I am nostalgic that the face of the show is missing. Stewart has a unique ability to explain difficult obscurities within our government or point out the hypocrisy of politicians’ statements, all while getting the audience to think and view ideas and issues in a new light.

Viewers of “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” may tune in for the clever headlines (Democalypse 2012 headlined the 2012 Presidential Election) and unflattering, Photoshop-ed graphics, but they stay for the intelligence within the joke, the education the within comedy.

Eleanor Van Buren graduated from Riverdale High School this year. She is continuing to write her student column this summer. To contact her, email education@lakeoswegoreview.com.

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