Tonight is a "love in" for the Renaissance man that is Jon Stewart, host of the cult US satirical news programme The Daily Show, now airing in the UK. A graduate of psychology, a former public servant and a puppeteer before discovering stand-up, Stewart's rise was helped by the legendary talk-show host David Letterman. Stewart was, in fact, close to replacing Letterman on Late Night in 1993 but had to wait until 1999, aged 37, for the big time to beckon with The Daily Show.
It was worth the wait. The Daily Show has become the last word in American political satire: think The Day Today, but with an affable host who can "Bush bash" with an incredulous look. The programme's reputation has grown as the liberal values at the heart of its humour have taken hits from both Bush election victories. In 2003, the programme made history when Senator John Edwards became the first politician to announce candidacy for an election on a comedy programme, thus reinforcing the notion that the show is the antidote to Fox or CNN.
Guests, whom Stewart treats politely, have encompassed both politics and showbiz, from the sublime (Jimmy Carter) to the rid-iculous (Graham Norton).
Ricky Gervais was the "guest", joining Stewart, Ben Karlin (The Daily Show's executive producer) and head writer David Javerbaum (formerly of spoof newspaper The Onion) on stage for a set piece taken from a spin-off book, America (The Book): A Citizen's Guide to Democracy Inaction.
Readings from the book formed the single largest part of the show, and most fans were happy to indulge. Still, those of us eager to see the grey-haired, distinguished Stewart demonstrate his charisma and humour weren't disappointed by his opening monologue, coining "freedom tickler" as a euphemism for torture, and suggesting that France didn't join the Iraq war because ultimately they had their own Muslim insurgency to worry about "only 15 minutes outside Paris".
The audience, which included Salman Rushdie, Alan Rickman, David Baddiel, Morwenna Banks, Angus Deayton and Marcus Brigstocke, got a chance to work Stewart in a Q&A.
To a remark about Americans being stupid for letting Bush back in, he put Blair in the frame: "It's a pleasure to come to a country where they never made the wrong choice!" Such flourishes make me look forward to Stewart returning to Britain, but I hope he does so in a better "vehicle" and without a book to peddle.Reuse content