Jon Stewart might be one of our nation's most beloved satirists, but he knows that the business of unpacking the silliness and stupidity of American politics requires the assistance of some very important people. Appearing Saturday night at Milwaukee's Riverside Theater for a rare stand-up performance, Jon Stewart hushed the sold-out house when audience members booed venomously at the mention of Sarah Palin. After all, while the former Alaska governor has had a dubious effect on national discourse, she's been a bottomless well of material for Stewart on The Daily Show. "Don't you want me to make a living?" he asked.
Seeing Stewart outside the confines of their TV boxes allowed fans to witness some other sides to the 48-year-old comedian, particularly his family-man and sensitive-spiritual-thinker guises. "My wife's Catholic and I'm Jewish, so we're raising our kids to be sad," Stewart mused. For the most part, though, he talked about the need to keep personal religious beliefs separate from the public arena. The common assertion that the United States is God's favored nation was dissected by Stewart with typical surgical precision: "Why did [God] bury all the oil under countries that hate us? He could've put it in New Hampshire."
While Stewart's reflections on the small window of innocence and guileless sincerity that exists in childhood – "Think about when you discovered being a dick"—were funny and surprisingly touching, he saved his sharpest jabs and most memorable lines for his whip-smart and wickedly witty political material. After a short detour into Wisconsin politics that gutted the state's union-busting governor and "sociopath" Scott Walker, Stewart compared and contrasted Barack Obama with his predecessor, and wondered whether we "over-corrected" from George W. Bush. While Bush is like that "kid in sixth grade giving a book report on a book he clearly hasn't read," Stewart likened Obama to the kid "who read the book in first grade, and can't believe you're just getting around to reading it."
Later Stewart delivered the best line of the night when talking about how impressive Obama's 2008 election victory still seems – not because he's our first African-American president, but because his name is Barack Hussein Obama, which would be like "Roosevelt losing the election in the '40s to Gaydolf Shitler."
Stewart also used humor to uncover some commonsense truths about the same-sex marriage debate. "I can understand gay marriage being an issue if the government was going to make it mandatory," he said before delving into the so-called "gay agenda" and its core, secret conservatism. "[Gays] want to get married and fight in our military. They want the worst parts of being straight."
Smart people can disagree about whether gay marriage should be legal, but Stewart's intelligence and well-reasoned, even-handed outlook make him a reliably reassuring island in a stormy sea of rancor in our national political conversations. Extremists on both sides of the political spectrum "run the joint," Stewart said. "Everyone else has shit to do." Those shit-doing folks are Stewart's people.