Jon Stewart considers many of his former Daily Show co-workers to be family — and like any good Jersey boy, he gets protective when his family gets threatened.
Stewart joined Daily Show alums Samantha Bee, Rob Corddry, Ed Helms, and John Oliver on Stephen Colbert’s May 9 Late Show for a 20th anniversary reunion celebrating the Comedy Central series that launched all their careers. But even with a flashback sketch featuring everyone in (purposefully) terrible wigs, a cameo from current Daily Show host Trevor Noah, and archival footage of field pieces past, the most interesting moment of the evening came when Stewart leapt to Colbert’s defense during a one-on-one interview.
At the very start of their sit-down, Stewart joked that he wasn’t comfortable being there with Colbert, because “I've been seeing about you in the news, you have a potty mouth."
“I learned it from you, Dad,” Colbert grinned, smoothing over the reference before they could fully get into the fact that The Late Show host recently became the subject of an FCC complaint because he cracked a particularly explicit joke about Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. (You will not be surprised to hear it implied that the two might be gay and sleeping together. Such an original and not at all tired “LOL gay sex” punchline, right there.)
Later, Colbert felt the bristles of Stewart’s beard with his own face and declared it to be as soft as “an angel’s tit” — and then, glancing offstage, half-grimaced and half-rolled his eyes as he realized that “tit” would have to be bleeped.
But Stewart didn’t let the moment slip by without making it clear that he thinks the outrage over Colbert’s recent commentary is ridiculous.
“Even if [the things Colbert says] are crass or even if they in some ways are not respectful enough to the office of the presidency,” Stewart said, “we can insult; [Trump] can injure.”
“It's the difference between insult and injury,” Stewart continued, “and for the life of me, I do not understand why in this country we try to hold comedians to a standard we do not hold leaders to. It's bizarre."
It’s too bad Colbert almost immediately cut to commercial after that, because Stewart’s point could have inspired an interesting debate. For one, I’m not convinced the actual content of Colbert’s joke (which saw him declare that the only thing Trump’s mouth is good for “is being Vladimir Putin’s cock holster”) is worth defending quite so hard as Stewart did, given that comedians have been making lazy homophobic jokes about Trump and Putin for years now.
To Stewart’s point, though, it must feel doubly bizarre for him and Colbert to navigate political comedy in an era when the man holding the highest office in the land is someone whose crude words can no longer be explained away as ratings gambits for a reality show.