At the start of every academic year, the incoming first year class at UChicago gathers with their families in Rockefeller Chapel to hear an esteemed faculty member give an “Aims of Education” address. A few weeks ago, we were presented with a bonus Aims of Education address of sorts. This time, instead of having a faculty member, Jon Stewart addressed those in attendance for a taping of David Axelrod’s new podcast, The Axe Files. 

Stewart’s visit has already been covered fairly extensively, but I wanted to try and find some common themes in what he said. His talk was fairly explicit, but I’ll do my best to keep this appropriate for all audiences. The quotes here are as exact as I was able to make them as I took notes during his speech.

Donald Trump: Stewart doubted whether Trump was even eligible to run for president. He mentioned that he certainly is not a Constitutional scholar, and brought up an interesting objection (considering how Trump hinted that both Cruz and Rubio are ineligible for the presidency, I think this is fair game). “Are you eligible to run if you are a man-baby? Or a baby man? He has the physical countenance of a man, and the temperament and hands of a baby.”

While working at The Daily Show, Stewart mentioned how he discovered Trump’s true name (well before John Oliver requested that Americans Make Donald Drumpf Again).

It all started when he referred to Trump as “a boiled ham in a wig,” and Trump tweeted back at him, “as you know, great leaders tweet late at night. As you recall, Lincoln tweeted out ‘emancipate this mother f***ers.’”

Trump responded with the following:

Stewart then returned fire, finding Trump’s real name. “We thought…let’s answer, so we tweeted back to him, his real name.”

Trump wasn’t too happy, and he took to Twitter, as he is known to do.

I think that Putin would definitely be intimidated by a late night tweetstorm.

Regarding Trump’s attitude, Stewart remarked that people “keep saying when he’s president he’ll be totally mature, but what does that say about your constituency if you say the only way I can win this part of the race is if you’re an unrepentant, narcissistic, asshole?” I think the broader point that Stewart is making here is definitely interesting. Trump is definitely telling people that he will be “more presidential” down the road, but doesn’t that mean that his whole campaign up to this point was an act? He also makes another very interesting point about how Trump is an imperfect messenger to argue against political correctness. “The whole idea of political correctness is everyone is so sensitive…yet Donald Trump can’t handle a joke about him. Vanity Fair ran a story 25 years ago about Trump’s hands, and he’s still not over it.”

How much does he hate Trump? Probably a lot, given that he said that “I would vote for Mr. T over Donald Trump.” Although it may be possible that he likes Mr. T a lot.

Hillary Clinton: Stewart sort of apologized for being a little bit older than his audience, saying that “I’m throwing out references that people don’t understand, and I will continue to do so.” He then proceeded to keep his word, saying that “what I think about Hillary Clinton is I imagine a very bright woman without the courage of her convictions, because I don’t know what they are…she reminds me of Magic Johnson’s talk show. It seemed like he was wearing an outfit designed by someone else for someone else.” I’ve never seen Johnson’s talking show, but I can imagine the point he’s making. He also wondered whether she was a robot, saying “maybe I’m wrong, maybe a real person doesn’t exist under her.” That said, he also told us that having Hillary on his show was “really cool.”

Media: Stewart was not a fan of the way the media has been treating this campaign, saying that “the media is no longer predator and prey, but is now a remora, waiting for crumbs.” Media challenging Trump is like “floating logs in a torrent. A counterweight does not mean that occasionally you push back to a small extent as the waters rush by everywhere else. FOX understood that to take over the cycle, you need to be relentless.” On the other hand, “MSNBC would like to have the clarity of their ideology mesh with making money, but so far that just hasn’t worked out.” There have been moments where TV journalism was actually very advanced, such as “at the Nixon-Kennedy debate. I was there, you were there…Nixon was like ‘I look great.’ He went out there, and everyone thought he had hepatitis.” At another point, he noted that “I see the world of journalism skewing more towards comedy” than the other way around.

The Daily Show: Stewart mentioned how candidates and campaign managers used to ask him how to have a successful appearance on his show, and his response was that “she should say what her beliefs are on how to fix America, and what they believe.” His advice for those who want to intern for The Daily Show? “Practice washing fruit…and Xanax.” There was never a concerted effort to make his show focus on something. It seemed like the process was always more organic. “At no moment was there ever a moment, we will turn this ship to focus here, it was just that seems boring, that seems interesting, let’s do that.”

Comedy’s Role: in addition to making people laugh, comedy can also shame people into action. “Shame can be a final gust of wind. Comedy can’t have an impact on policy, people can have an influence on policy.” Comedy “is not anything other than a painting, a song, a joke. None of those can change anything.” “No topic is off limits” to political satire, “because no topics are off limits to life.” For comedy to be effective, it needs “to have the least amount of distance between your brain and your gut.”

Public Service: although much of his talk seemed extremely cynical, he assured us all that “this is not cynicism, don’t mistake this for cynicism.” In fact, his “criticism is out of love and desperation, not cynicism. I’m not pessimistic, because this country has proven resilient, based on the fact that it’s foundation was in the basis of Age of Reason and Age of Enlightenment.” He had a unique way of encouraging young people to get involved in politics, telling us to “get into it,” but that was not without a warning to not “get it onto you.” He clarified that statement, saying “when I say don’t get in on you, I don’t mean don’t engage. Put a HAZMAT suit on.” He also encouraged people to make an actual difference, and have it not be limited to the online world. “Do what you think is good, and if you get 50 likes, great. Your life exists outside of television and Instagram.”

His Future: Stewart is very pleased with the current crop of comedians on television, and he doesn’t know if he’ll be doing election related things. However, if anyone thought that he would have an October Surprise up his sleeve (or even another Rally to Restore Sanity), they should move on. “The October Surprise in this election is not a two minute cartoon I am going to release.”

As I mentioned above, Stewart’s presence on campus has been covered fairly widely but I hadn’t yet seen a breakdown of his talk by some key themes. Want to hear the rest of his interview? Watch below!

Stewart UChicago
Quite a productive way to spend an afternoon.