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Does Jon Stewart Need New Jewish Material?

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Unknown Author
June 01, 2012

As even the most casual viewer of The Daily Show can glean, Jon Stewart is capable of coupling wit and erudition to corner an interviewee or savage (a video clip of) a graceless politician—though he’s much more comfortable settling into the position of the bemused naif. Ignorance comes in numerous guises, and if one were to create a Donald Rumsfeld-like taxonomy, Stewart would be placed under “cultivated ignorance” (the known unknown). He’s done the reading, but he’s perpetually just a little bit in over his head, and he knows it; hell, he delights in it. That’s part of his charm.

Nowhere is this more clear than in how Stewart—born Jonathan Stuart Leibowitz—approaches his Jewishness, or Jewishness writ large. Like a seventh-grade class clown refusing to learn his Torah portion, he’s ignorant of most things Jewish, and he sees no problem with that. But that is a problem when Stewart is perhaps the most famous Jewish television personality working today. He is unavoidably the standard-bearer in the august tradition of Jewish comedy, and his flag is looking tattered.

Great performers always risk falling into shtick; it’s the cost of being so good that you’re asked to do the same thing too many times. (Go watch a popular comedian or singer a few years into a five-days-a-week Vegas residency and you’ll practically see the mold on their clothes.) Stewart hasn’t quite attained this level in his everyday performance—the show is still consistently funny; it still provides an essential service as a media gadfly and Fox News foil—but he’s long run through his Jewish material.

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