I love Jon Stewart. He went to my alma mater and his mind works a lot like mine, only better and a lot funnier.
But I was watching The Daily Show show last night, and it made me appreciate how important writers are to what often seems like conversation, or improvisation.
Stewart wasn’t nearly as funny as he usually is. Though the line between soaring and sinking in topical TV comedy can be a fine one that is not always easy to see, it is getting easier to see how a team of writers keep the best shows on the right side of that line. Stewart appeared to be forcing the energy a bit, something that has never seemed the case before.
He was clearly not as comfortable as when he has all those pen-wielding TV clowns ready to distract the crowd if he slips on the high wire, or something like that.
Even when Stewart’ss jokes fall a little flat, he has a way of making the failure funny that was one of the keys to Johnny Carson’s success at delivering thousands of monologues. He seems to have less of a way lately.
Stewart’s show focused on the writers strike, including an interview with a professor from Cornell who specializes in labor issues, so it was not going to be a laugh riot. There was fodder for humor, but most of the jokes just missed the mark, like a well-aimed horseshoe that sails over the stake and and tumbles a few times, end over end, before hitting a spectator in the shin and making them wince, or something like that.
A joke about the writers’ strike being nine times as bad as 9/11 seemed awkwardly out of left field, and should have remained there. A joke with a 9/11 reference has to be handled just right, which is why it is so valuable to have a team of writers. They may be a motley crew that is playing with Simpsons action figures half the time. But they earn their pay the other half, a point that is becoming clearer with each passing day.