Jon Stewart: Amid Coronavirus ‘America Stopped and Smelled the Racism’

Jon Stewart performs at the 13th annual Stand Up For Heroes benefit concert in support of the Bob Woodruff Foundation at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden on Monday, Nov. 4, 2019, in New York. (Photo by Greg Allen/Invision/AP)
Greg Allen/Invision/AP

Former Daily Show host Jon Stewart said protests in the wake of the death of George Floyd occurred because Americans, who were quarantining over the coronavirus pandemic, had the opportunity to “stop and smell the racism.”

“In some respects, I wonder if the pandemic, because we all went into kind of a stasis, and the distractions of your daily life were removed, that it allowed the country a moment of clarity,” said Jon Stewart to Stephen Colbert on The Late Show Wednesday night. “It’s almost like in this moment of more quiet reflection, America suddenly stopped and smelled the racism,” he added. “Do you know what I mean? There was that feeling that we were in a moment’s pause, and in that one breath, maybe it suddenly because clear.”

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When it came to the topic of the 2020 presidential election, Stewart admitted that former vice president Joe Biden is “not my guy,” but that he would settle for him. “Biden was not my guy, you know, wasn’t even in the top four,” said Stewart.

“Not my guy,” he reiterated. “But having watched him on your show, and having spoken to him at other times, and seeing him in other situations, I’m not crazy about the ‘Uncle Joe’ character, the uncle Joey, ‘I took down Corn Pop, hey how you doing,’ the touchy feely like — I don’t like that shit.”

The comedian went on to claim that “the blindfold is off” with regards to American exceptionalism, and that we now need a president who “understands that he doesn’t understand,” and that the United States is not as exceptional as some people may believe. “We are a country in terrible anguish right now,” said Stewart. “American exceptionalism — the blindfold is off, and we’re kind of seeing ourselves as who we really are.”

“We are fearful, and we are angry, and we are in pain,” affirmed Stewart. “And when I see Biden pass the shtick, I see a guy who knows what loss is, knows grief. And I think that that kind of grief humbles you.”

“And what I think in this moment this country needs is a leader of humility that understands that he doesn’t understand,” said Stewart. “Maybe he’s the man of the moment.”

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In another interview with host Charlamagne tha God on his radio show The Breakfast Club, Stewart mentioned that The Daily Show didn’t do enough for diversity during his time as the show’s host. “When I started on The Daily Show, pretty much an all white staff, all white correspondents, mostly male, and people would call me out on various shit about it, and I would get defensive, until I had to stop and think about it,” said Stewart.

The comedian said the show had a policy in which all applications wouldn’t have names on it, so that there would be no way to tell what sex or background they were hiring.

“We thought that’s the way to not be sexist or racist, but we still kept just hiring white dudes,” said Stewart. “White dudes from a certain background, and what we realized is, the river that we were getting the material from, the tributary was also polluted by the same inertia.”

“And you had to say to them, send me women, send me black people,” he added.

Stewart also brought up becoming defensive after a black writer called him out over his impression of Herman Cain.

“I did a bit about Herman Cain where I adopted Herman Cain’s accent,” said Stewart. “To me, it was just his accent, but to that writer, it was a racist bit. And he called me out in a meeting with everybody around, and I got defensive, and got mad.”

“And it took me a long time to realize that the real issue was that we hired a person who is black, and that because then they felt like they’re carrying the weight of representation,” continued Stewart. “So, they suddenly feel like, ‘I’ve got to be the speaker of the race,’ and that puts a pressure on them.”

“So we think we’re doing the right thing, but we’re not doing it in the right way,” he added. “Those were hard lessons for me, and they were humbling lessons. And I was defensive about them, and still didn’t do it all right.”

You can follow Alana Mastrangelo on Twitter at @ARmastrangelo, on Parler at @alana, and on Instagram.

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