For all the value Jon Stewart delivered as a political satirist and voice of reason during his 16-year-run as the host of ‘‘The Daily Show,’’ it’s quite plausible to suggest that the political and media Bizarro World in which we live — where skepticism is the default, news is often indistinguishable from entertainment and entertainers have usurped public authority from the country’s political leaders — is one that he and his show helped to usher in. ‘‘Look, we certainly were part of that ecosystem, but I don’t think that news became entertainment because they thought our show was a success,’’ Stewart says. ‘‘Twenty-four-hour news networks are built for one thing, and that’s 9/11. There are very few events that would justify being covered 24 hours a day, seven days a week. So in the absence of urgency, they have to create it. You create urgency through conflict.’’ That pervasive sense of political and social conflict has only grown since Stewart left the air in 2015. It has also made Stewart’s post-‘‘Daily Show’’ silence — apart from a few guest spots on his old friend and colleague Stephen Colbert’s show, he has been mostly out of the spotlight — more intriguing. What has he been thinking about this country while he has been gone? Now he has returned with some answers.
Stewart, who is 57, has written and directed ‘‘Irresistible,’’ a political satire about a small Wisconsin town that becomes engulfed in a political spectacle when a Democratic strategist and his Republican counterpart become fixated on the larger symbolic value and bellwether potential of the local mayoral race. The film, which will make its theatrical and video-on-demand premiere on June 26, is evidence that being away from the grind of a daily TV show has expanded rather than shrunk Stewart’s satirical powers. He’s well aware, though, that in this exceedingly polarized time, making a comedy that takes shots at both political parties, as ‘‘Irresistible’’ does, is an invitation to criticism. ‘‘You’re going to have people on the left who go, In the time of Trump, all you should be doing is a ‘Fahrenheit 11/9; (Michael Moore’s typically scathing 2018 documentary about the election of Donald Trump.) there is no purpose other than to destroy the mother ship,’’ Stewart says. And the other side’s possible reaction to his return? ‘‘There are people on the right predisposed to say, ‘[expletive] that guy.’ ’’ Some things never change.
How strange is it, after having been basically out of the public eye for five years, to be coming back with something now? ‘‘The world is on fire, here’s my new movie’’ seems like an awkward spot to be in. It’s like showing up to a plane crash with a chocolate bar. There’s tragedy everywhere, and you’re like, ‘‘Uh, does anybody want chocolate?’’ It feels ridiculous. But what doesn’t feel ridiculous is to continue to fight for nuance and precision and solutions.
You know, I’ve been trying to think of some precise, encapsulating question to ask you about what we’ve been witnessing over the last few weeks, and everything I was coming up with felt forced or phony. Maybe it’s better, because you’ve been eloquent during times of crisis in the past, just to ask what you’ve been thinking about and seeing in the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing? I’d like to say I’m surprised by what happened to him, but I’m not. This is a cycle, and I feel that in some ways, the issue is that we’re addressing the wrong problem. We continue to make this about the police — the how of it. How can they police? Is it about sensitivity and de-escalation training and community policing? All that can make for a less-egregious relationship between the police and people of color. But the how isn’t as important as the why, which we never address. The police are a reflection of a society. They’re not a rogue alien organization that came down to torment the black community. They’re enforcing segregation. Segregation is legally over, but it never ended. The police are, in some respects, a border patrol, and they patrol the border between the two Americas. We have that so that the rest of us don’t have to deal with it. Then that situation erupts, and we express our shock and indignation. But if we don’t address the anguish of a people, the pain of being a people who built this country through forced labor — people say, ‘‘I’m tired of everything being about race.’’ Well, imagine how [expletive] exhausting it is to live that.