When tragedy strikes as it did this week in South Carolina, many people handle it in many different ways. But when this is the news of the day, what do you do when your job is to make fun of the news? Last night on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart, the host did the only thing he could. He put the jokes away and spoke from his heart.
In the opening segment of The Daily Show Thursday night, Stewart apologized to the audience for his inability to write jokes in the shadow of a gunman who killed nine African American parishioners in a church Wednesday in Charleston, South Carolina. Rather than the traditional “news desk” style opening that the show usually takes, Stewart instead simply began to speak directly to the audience - without even changing cameras - about his feelings regarding the shooting in South Carolina. He went on to speak at length about his frustration that this was not the first time that he had had to deal with such a story on the show.
The rest of his show was given over to an interview with Malala Yousafzai, a 17-year-old Pakistani activist who was shot and nearly killed by extremists in 2012 when she spoke publicly that she believed women should have a right to an education in her country. In October, she received the Nobel Peace Prize and is currently the subject of the upcoming documentary film He Named Me Malala.
Stewart’s monologue focuses on what he sees as a disparity within America’s focus on terrorism from outside the country’s borders without dealing with racial issues within the country, namely ones that lead to Americans killing other Americans. He also takes some swipes at the Confederate flag, which currently flies over the South Carolina Statehouse, and the fact that there are streets in South Carolina named for Confederate generals of the Civil War.
Stewart will be leaving The Daily Show in August, where he has been the host since 1999, and Daily Show correspondent Trevor Noah will be taking over the show. Stewart mentioned his departure as one of the reasons that he may have had trouble looking past the week’s tragedy in search of comedy.
Stewart was obviously hit hard by the massacre and felt that it needed to be addressed in a manner other than the show’s trademark political mockery. Things will likely return to normal on Monday. Once the dust has settled on the tragedy itself, The Daily Show will be able to react to everyone else's reactions to the event, which will likely give Stewart an opportunity to take aim at one of his favorite comedic targets, cable news.