Thursday, October 28th, 2010

Did Jon Stewart's Audience Ruin His Obama Interview?

Jon Stewart's interview of Barack Obama last night was a good one, with the comedian not shying away from pointed questions about the first two years of his presidency. But there was one aspect of it that just about ruined it: the audience.

Having a crowd cheering and clapping, interrupting both Obama and Stewart multiple times, turned what should have been a thoughtful debate into an arena battle. A crowd makes sense for something like a sporting event or a comedy show. You want an audience to provide energy, to react where reactions are warranted.

But the trouble with having a live audience at what is supposed to be a relatively serious discussion is that it forces everything to be dumbed down to soundbites. Any subtlety is removed, as who cheers for a nuanced argument? A crowd wants to cheer for big proclamations, for sweeping statements.

And that's the trouble with Stewart moving more into the realm of legitimate political pundits. If he wants to do a real interview with the leader of the free world, it sure undercuts his standing to have a live audience screaming and clapping when he makes a point.

Because really, an audience that dumbly cheers at mentions of liberal talking points and boos at mentions of the tea party or republican candidates represents everything in the current political media climate that Stewart normally rallies against. It represents a dumbed-down, over-hyped level of discourse, one that ignores the complex facts behind what's going on in government in favor of the overly simplistic us vs. them, right vs. wrong, good vs. evil, left vs. right dichotomy that cable news has embraced so strongly.

Just imagine if a show on Fox News had a live studio audience. If every time Sean Hannity mentioned death panels or Obamacare, he got a raucous ovation. It would make something that's already oversimplified and dumbed down even more so, encouraging pandering and self-congratulation and lowering the level of discourse even further.

Of course, most of the time The Daily Show needs its studio audience. It's still a comedy show after all, and Stewart going through his opening segments to silence would zap a whole lot of energy from the show. Sure, the audience's propensity to cheer for a point rather than laugh at a joke can be grating, but that's the nature of the beast with a political comedy show.

But when Stewart brings on serious guests and wants to have serious discussions with them, it might make more sense to do it without that live audience. Because when the President of the United States can't get through three sentences without being interrupted by cheering and whooping, it makes everyone watching feel a little bit dumber for being a part of that audience.

Sponsored Content
  • blazedshaggy

    Obama is demeaning the Presidency by doing these types of interviews. Anyone with half a bit of sense understands this and this article just solidifies it even further. He's out and about making a mockery of a situation that is nearing the severity of The Great Depression. No wonder the Dems are feeling the heat in Congress…

    • http://splitsider.com Adam Frucci

      Yes, he sure did demean the presidency. But when George Bush talked about spanking with Dr. Phil, that was right in line with the dignity of the office.


      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Joel-Edwards/23400420 Joel Edwards

        I actually agree with your sarcastic statement. Both Bush and Obama's presidencies are the only ones to have been fully engulfed in the information age. Everything said, done, debated, etc… is immediately available to the public. The problem with this fact is that it waters down and reduces the importance of issues like the one that Obama tried to make on the Daily Show. Regardless of who the president is, my advice is to follow Radiohead's method when dealing with the media which is to stay out of the spotlight until you're ready to make a true impact on your fans and followers.

  • David Morar


    The international edition of the Daily Show is a week-in-review type thing, which Stewart anchors without the audience, and most of the jokes fail, due to lack of response.

    On the flipside, Craig Ferguson did a special edition of his Late Late Show, without any type of audience with an hour-long interview with Stephen Fry and it was terrific. And the next show was back to him playing with puppets.

    So maybe just for this episode, he could've done without the audience.

  • Mike Schuster
  • http://comedyconjectures.blogspot.com Brett Johnson

    Good points made here. This tension has, i think, been a part of the show's premise from the start – which Stewart has been able to (usually) nimbly navigate, making the 'serious points' either in a playful-but-i-mean-this tone, or sandwiched between jokes. I didn't see this interview but it's clear how it played out from your description.

    Agreed that for this sort of thing, w/o a live audience may work better…but that conjures up the staid image of a Dateline like, over-the-shoulder-shot 'serious interview', kind of flying in the face of the comedy goals (even if done with Stewart's ability to mix in humor and playfulness).

    Ultimately bringing it back to the question of: is the goal – when they get the chance to have high profile individuals on, at least – humor & interest, or is it the Public Service of asking serious questions and delving in? These can be try to be mixed, but that will present situations like this where neither is served well.

    • http://comedyconjectures.blogspot.com Brett Johnson

      PS watched it

  • Pingback: Obama’s ‘Heckuva Job’ on the “Daily Show” « ACG|Blog

  • Moff

    Agreed, agreed, a thousand times agreed. And not just in reference to this interview with Obama. It's maddening — even emmaddening, I daresay — how the Daily Show audience hoots and jeers so fucking predictably during interviews. If it were still just a comedy show, I wouldn't mind so much. But honestly, Jon Stewart is one of the few interviewers who actually sometimes follows up when the subject evades a question, and the knee-jerk crowd reaction makes it tough to take those efforts seriously.

    (Not that he's perfect. He often stretches his arguments. But still.)

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Nick-Douglas/69100171 Nick Douglas

    To be fair, the audience was taking their cues from the State of the Union crowd.

  • Pingback: 3. Obama: “Change you can believe in, but…” « Tikkunista!

  • Pingback: Did Jon Stewart’s Audience Ruin His Obama Interview? « TJWALKER INTERACTIVE

  • Pingback: This Week’s Top Web Comedy Video: Residential Foursquare [Video] | World's Greatest T-Shirt

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jeff-Dodd/100000071610539 Jeff Dodd

    Politicians today are skilled in the recitation of statements without loaded phrases, or perhaps a more blunt response to a question. While the audience at TDS is definitely liberal, I appreciate the audience response, as it feeds back to the speaker that the listener recognizes their soft-pedaled answer. I doubt Obama would say, “the Republicans are hypocritical jack-offs that are doing little more than pandering to the right-wing, gun-toting, bible-waving uni-brows that show up at the rallies,” but to soap it over as “having challenges finding common ground” is worth groaning at.