Memo to Jon Stewart: Join us. Public radio is your natural home.

Jon Stewart interviewing former Admiral Michael Mullen on the Daily Show.  Photo:  US Navy via Wikipedia "Jon Stewart and Michael Mullen on The Daily Show" by Chad J. McNeeley - This United States Navy photo, taken from this Navy webpageThis Image was released by the United States Navy with the ID 100106-N-0696M-127 (next).This tag does not indicate the copyright status of the attached work. A normal copyright tag is still required. See Commons:Licensing for more information.বাংলা | Deutsch | English | español | euskara | فارسی | français | italiano | 日本語 | 한국어 | македонски | മലയാളം | Plattdüütsch | Nederlands | polski | português | Türkçe | 中文 | 中文(简体)‎ | +/−. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Jon Stewart interviewing former Admiral Michael Mullen on the Daily Show. Photo: US Navy via Wikipedia “Jon Stewart and Michael Mullen on The Daily Show” by Chad J. McNeeley.   Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Okay, let’s get one thing out of the way.  Pound for pound, public radio is maybe the least funny media outlet in America.  Public radio mostly sucks at humor when we’re trying to be funny.

But…but…and stay with me here…the one time that we’re sometimes really, really humorous and engaged and laugh-out-loud hilarious is when we’re trying to be deadly serious.

Listen to an episode of Radiolab or This American Life or the Moth or Scott Simon on a good weekend morning and you’ll find storytelling that captures that most American of art forms, mingling hard truth and satire with a morally grounded sense of humor.

Which brings me to Jon Stewart.  Stewart winds up his culture-changing run as host of the Daily Show this August.

The truth is, the show has morphed dramatically over the years.  The show that’s ending this summer isn’t the show he took over in 1999.  It started out with a whole lot of schtick, with Stewart happily playing the jester in the halls of American power.  He seemed gleeful.  He seemed truly amused by the antics that surrounded him.

But the last half-decade or so, not so much.  The last half-decade, Stewart has oftened seemed angry, disgusted.  He wanted laughs, sure, but he wanted answers more.  And really, Stewart has been the most engaging and the most hilarious as he’s dug deeper and deeper into the role of actual journalist, interviewing guests with the kind of probative, deeply researched questions that few American reporters can match.

Watching recently as Stewart dismantled former New York Times reporter Judith Miler — who helped build the case for the Iraq War — I found myself thinking over and over, “Why the hell is this interview happening on late-nite TV?”

The truth is that Stewart’s focus and his interests have moved him further and further along a path away from Johnny Carson and David Letterman (and even George Carlin) and closer and closer to Terry Gross and Ira Glass. In fact, there are times when Stewart’s imperative to act funny, to strive for yucks, seems more and more strained and awkward.

So here’s my humble invitation.

Why not come home to the place where grown-up, hard, civil conversations are happening every day about exactly the things that Jon Stewart thinks we need to be talking about? Here’s a reality. A lot of the audience that Stewart started out with in 1999 has already graduated to public radio.

The college kid who tuned in the Daily Show in 1999? She’s in her late thirties now. She has a mortgage and two kids and a divorce.  And she’s listening to NPR on the drive to work every day. She’s here waiting for you, Jon, right here on the FM dial or on her smart phone podscast.  And she’s willing to follow you and your line of curiosity, even when you’re doing a show where there doesn’t need to be a punch-line or a clown-gag.

In pragmatic terms, it’s also worth pointing out that hosting a daily interview show on public radio is a lot easier than hosting a nightly television show. You can come to work in your blue jeans.  You can work from studios anywhere in the world. Hell, you can work from home a lot of days. Which means that doing a stint in our world would still allow Stewart tons of time to pursue the side projects –movies, stand-up, whatever — that seem certain to be a part of his creative future.

A regular public radio talk show would also maintain Stewart’s essential role in the national dialogue. It would allow him to shed some of the “I’m not a real journalist” song-and-dance and instead begin to explore, publicly in his inimitably self-revealing way, what it means to be the kind of journalist America needs.

The truth is that public radio is a much, much better fit for Jon Stewart than the Late Show will ever be for Stephen Colbert. Colbert’s decision to go the route of Jimmy Kimmel and Jimmy Fallon still leaves me sort of breathless.   How he packs all the rage and razor-blade humor into the avuncular, goof-ball move-down-the-couch realm that late-nite has always been — and why the hell Colbert would want to try — is a mystery.

By contrast, the idea of Stewart turning in a few years in public radio makes a lot more sense. Of course, our world pays a lot less than Comedy Central (or the Late Show) but I’m guessing Stewart didn’t leave the Daily Show in search of a bigger paycheck. He left because he was a little bored and a little restless and wanted to try something really, really different.

So, I say the right place for this great humorist and observer of the American story is right here.  Hell, why not take a trial run at it, piloting a radio show that launches next January and runs through the November elections? That would be an hour of daily NPR that a huge swath of America would tune in to hear.

11 Comments on “Memo to Jon Stewart: Join us. Public radio is your natural home.”

  1. bill shaver says:

    Public radio would be agood plce for him like Rick Mercer in Cnada on the CBC…Maby they should both get together, for a new program that covers all north america….we all know the weather does not stop at the 45 lat …..I’m sure they could lampoon that thought process thats so entrenched in usa…..

  2. Brian Mann says:

    Two of Stewarts’ best “correspondents” were Canadians, Samantha Bee and Jason Jones. So…who knows?

    -Brian, NCPR

  3. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    I can’t deny that Jon Stewart would be great on NPR, but I think this post completely misses the point of everything Jon Stewart stands for. The reason Stewart has seemed more and more frustrated over the years is that actual journalists who have a responsibility to the American public have failed us miserably.

    That isn’t to say that there aren’t good journalists or that important stories aren’t covered, but that they aren’t willing to fight for the truth. NPR has suffered from organizational cowardice in the face of assaults from the far right. In the face of 9/11 hysteria nearly all major news sources fell in line with the Cheney/Rumsfeld/Bush sets of policy — in fact they STILL fail to reflect on the fact that fighting terrorism is best done as a police function and not as a “war.”

    On economics, social justice, foreign policy, the environment, science, medicine – I should give more specific examples for these, so for medicine read Ebola or vaccinations… Journalists have failed us. The media sources that want to shoot straight down the middle will say that their job is to give “both” sides and let the public decide, but when monied interests skew coverage for their own benefit and everyone knows it but journalists won’t push back then journalists – and probably more importantly – their producers and management are failing.

    NPR doesn’t need Jon Stewart. NPR needs some fighters at the top. Send Ellen to NPR headquarters and forget Jon Stewart.

  4. jeff says:

    I agree that more humor on public radio, more comedy would be helpful, half an hour a day, even if it was clips of stand-up comics. Wait Wait is ok but I am usually out and about Saturdays. I have heard comedy on the Canadian network.

    I wonder if Jon would translate to an audio only audience. His facial expressions are part of the “act,” at least in the times I’ve seen him. Will Rogers crossed into radio well as he gave up the rope and talked more. Jon is an asset to public discourse.

  5. Pete Klein says:

    “She’s in her late thirties now. She has a mortgage and two kids and a divorce.” If this is the average American woman of today, look no further at what is wrong in America today.
    That aside, Stewart or anyone else on late night TV is playing to a very small audience and the chance to play for an even smaller radio audience seems unlikely for Stewart.
    I’ve watched the Stewart show when it was played at 7:30 p.m. after Colbert at 7, but haven’t watched anything beyond 10 p.m. in years.
    Not sure, but I would imagine the pay is better on TV than it would be for radio, no matter the time of day.

  6. Genius idea.

    When Jay Leno exited The Tonight Show, I thought a logical move would be for him to host a weekly, politically focused talk show on cable or online. Leno in later years to me markedly came alive during interviews when he the guest was a major politician or leading D.C. journalist. I think in the end Leno decided he is just happy to do stand-up and pass on the grind of another TV obligation.

  7. Mitch Edelstein says:

    Brian,

    The Judith Miller interview was hard hitting journalism. John Stewart when serious can be as good as any 60 minutes, hard core journalist. I will miss him greatly.

  8. bill shaver says:

    have any of you ever listened to cbc…all the good programs…randy bachmans hour…good old R& b….numerous comedy shows…frantics….dr bandolo’s pandemonium medicine show, etc…. wonder why p radio in usa not have this style….

  9. Agreed, Bill. Though public radio in this country is much more decentralized. Maybe that creates less of a purchasing critical mass for such productions.

  10. bill shaver says:

    Public radio in north country, has some excellennt programs…in am the weather report…a professional one he tells you what the fronts are doing, sounds like a combo of NOAA & ENVIRO canada, after all the weather does not stop at the boarder…morning news & internationa l news as well, Live from mountain stage…wait ,wait dont tell me , a feed from CBC as it happens( In canada coast to coast) , and of course music & bbc news through the night. In canada weather reports on the hour, programs we did have like Moringside, Cross country check up, saturday at the met….amongst others, but i’d like to see more of these in usa…. a more diverse broadcast of programing of pertinant material….

  11. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Looks like NCPR has stepped into a Jon Stewart moment over at the David Sommerstein Border Patrol tasing story. Will they just play it straight or will they step up to the plate and give it coverage to make Jon Stewart proud? And will our own Seraph (or is he Neo) Dale Hobson continue to valiantly defend the NCPR Matrix from the troll horde? Tune in tomorrow to find out.

Comments are closed.