Humor

The Truth Smirks

Jim Wallis: The Hebrew prophets often use humor, satire, and truth-telling to get their message across, and I feel you do a combination of all three. How conscious are you of this, and are you trying to make social change happen?

Jon Stewart: It may be true that the Hebrew prophets used humor in that regard, to create social change, but it was also used by Borscht Belt social directors. We’ve got a lot more in common with them than the prophets. Everyone here has a lot of respect for activists and an appreciation for what it takes to be an activist. For most of us, writing jokes, playing a little Guitar Hero in the afternoon, and calling it a day seems to be the way to go. Because we’re in the public eye, maybe people project onto us their desires for that type of activism coming from us, but just knowing the process here as I do, our show is maybe the antithesis of activism, and that is a relatively selfish pursuit. The targets we choose, the way we go about it—it’s got more of a personal venting aspect than a socially conscious aspect.

But you do provide a perspective.

It’s definitely a perspective in the way that an editorial cartoonist might provide a perspective. We provide a different way of framing things, but it is [different from] the framing devices used by politicians. Their aim isn't the framing device; that’s merely a method to get to a goal. For us, that is the goal. Some nights we get the recipe right, some nights we don’t, some nights it’s too strident, some nights too silly, some nights it’s juvenile, but our goal is to make ourselves proud of the product in terms of how we crafted it, the jokes we came up with, that sort of thing.

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Sojourners Magazine July 2009
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The Unkindest Cut

This is my first column in our bold new magazine design, which was created to bring state-of-the-art publishing innovations to our readers. Also, we were bored with the old design.

But now I only have room for 600 award-winning words, compared to the 800 award-winning words before. And now I only have 544 words left. Make that 536 words. Okay, 532. (Can you believe somebody actually has to fact-check this?) Doesthiscountasoneword?

Working in this small space, I’m reminded of Ernest Hemingway who, on a bar bet, wrote the world’s shortest novel: “Bartender ignores alcoholic author. Dies horribly.” No, that wasn’t it. Now I remember: “For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.” (I’ll pause briefly so readers can pull themselves together.) And I wonder if I can apply the same technique to a shortened humor column: “Guy walks into a bar. Buys baby shoes. Leaves.” (Nope. I need room to express my legendary comic stylings.)

But let’s move along. Given the ongoing economic crisis in this country, Sojourners is announcing a new financial support program for struggling subscribers. If you are no longer able to pay for your monthly magazine, we will waive the cost, after putting you through a series of stress tests, much like what the banking industry is experiencing right now, only with fewer push-ups. (At least, I hope Treasury officials are making bankers do push-ups, while standing on top of them and—to make for a more memorable teaching moment—holding a bucket of hot coals over their heads. “Oops, dropped another hot coal. Sorry.”)

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Sojourners Magazine July 2009
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On Obama's Short List

I hold in my hand a printout of the e-mail I just received from Barack Obama. Yes, I know it’s not green to use paper, but how else can I display it on my desk so co-workers can express awe, surprise, and most important, envy? The point is, I received a personal communication from, depending on which blog you read:

• A foreign-born Islamic extremist

• Socialist-in-Chief

• President of the United States

That’s right, President Barack Obama. The most powerful man in the most powerfully indebted nation in the world. Addressed to me, personally, and printed out by me, personally, so I can hold it in my hand and feel the power of being on The Inside. Not just inside the Beltway but below the Beltway. Wait, that came out wrong. Anyway, I am ... one of The Chosen.

Chosen to be in contact with the man who could be the most pivotal person in the history of the 21st century after Rush Limbaugh, a president not afraid of crisis. Because he knows the Chinese character for crisis is made up of the characters for “danger” and “opportunity.” Or possibly “turtle.” I can’t figure it out myself. To me the characters look like a guy reading under a tree with this huge fingerprint coming after him, which seems dangerous and he should stop reading and get the heck out of there. But I digress.

FOR SEVERAL MONTHS I’ve been incessantly checking my cell phone for a Blackberry message from the president, hoping that I’d be one of the half- dozen people on his speed dial. I was, after all, a major contributor to his campaign, and I enjoyed watching my $25 help correct an electoral system that has for two centuries discriminated against left-handed Hawaiians.

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Sojourners Magazine May 2009
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