After several years of pursuit and negotiation, UCSB Arts & Lectures achieved the unthinkable: They booked funnyman Jon Stewart, host of “The Daily Show” for a night of stand-up in the Thunderdome (his only West Coast appearance). In a year already marked by the appearances of such greats as Bill Clinton, Garry Trudeau, Madeleine Albright, Yo-Yo Ma and others, Stewart is another jewel in the crown of Santa Barbara celebrity encounters.
Seeing Stewart, uncensored and unchained, is an experience well worth even the insane ticket costs of the event’s non-student tickets. Stewart proves he’s just as hilarious without a team of writers preparing his material, and much more direct. Dressed down (even stranger than seeing Stewart 10 yards from you is seeing him without a suit) and laidback, Stewart strolled onstage and took the mic, opening an hour and a half of unadulterated Stewart.
Each of Stewart’s best lines were greeted with a rolling stomp from the Thunderdome, to the bemusement of Stewart, who eventually took to responding “the Thunderdome agrees!” When Stewart mentioned the Democrats’ victory in the recent election, he was interrupted by a thunderous peal of stomping.
“You know, not many places will Thunderdome legislative results,” Stewart quipped.
Stewart’s material constantly fluctuated from major issues – the war in Iraq and religious violence – to observations from his everyday life, like the difficulty in finding good games for Macs. These diverse topics were unified by Stewart’s candor in both his personal experience and political views. Using “dude” frequently, and dropping no small number of f-bombs, Stewart was even more casual in the packed Thunderdome than he is during his endearing hosting of The Daily Show.
Stewart even talked in passing about his own recent rise to fame. Responding to cheers and catcalls from the female half the audience, Stewart said, “Ladies, remember, whatever you’re thinking, underneath the sweater and jeans I am a 44-year-old man.”
Stewart’s analysis of George W. Bush was as artful as his well-known Bush impersonation.
“I honestly don’t think Bush is stupid. The trick is, he thinks we’re stupid. That’s why he talks the way he does. Every press conference is like a book report given by a kid who didn’t read the book and thinks he can lie to the teacher about it.”
The thrust of the second half of the routine was Stewart’s personal philosophy on politics: Everything in moderation. America, he explained, is subject to the “tyranny of the majority and the minority”, that is to say, that every issue is determined and argued in terms of extremes, and extremism is rarely the solution. As Stewart said, “But you don’t see moderates taking to the streets, chanting ‘Be reasonable’! Why is that? Because normal people have shit to do!”
Jon Stewart is a true role model for our generation. A wry, cynical observer for our lighthearted and apathetic generation, Stewart is a living reminder of something we today too often forget: That our actions, working toward reasonable change in our mad planet, can make the world a much better – and far funnier -place to live.