August 30, 2005

A word of advice to Bill Maher and Jon Stewart.

You need to restock your audiences. It's too packed with fans who are inflating your sense of how smart and funny you are. They may love you, but they are ruining you. And they are making you seem like a rude host to your guests, even when all you're doing is debating with them.

IN THE COMMENTS: A lot of comments! What's happening in there? Oh, people just got going...

106 comments:

Charles said...

Maher got an audience? Who watches him? Or is he like CNN with audiences under 300,000 nationwide for their heavy hitters?

Eddie said...

Even as a right wing nut, I find things he says are funny at times. However, his audience is a big turn off. It's like the blind leading the blind.

Thersites said...

Jon Stewart: stop doing what's made you successful. Pretend that people like Hitch aren't totally wrong. Pretend the Bush administration isn't totally dishonest and incompetent. People LIKE propaganda!

AJ Lynch said...

Audience?? That's a good one Charles. And a very good observation.

I was watching Hardball the other night and I was sruck by a commercial for some old and mediocre music group (i.e Tony Orlando and Dawn) that it occurred to me virtually no one else must be watching Hardball on MSNBC.

Ann Althouse said...

Thersites: Jon Stewart did not start out with an excessively hooting, fawning audience. He was once charmingly humble. He's getting cocky and smug. That's not so appealing.

Thersites said...

Thersites: Jon Stewart did not start out with an excessively hooting, fawning audience. He was once charmingly humble. He's getting cocky and smug. That's not so appealing.

I disagree. Eh, smug is in the eye of the beholder. I see him as less willing to allow someone like Hitchens to dish out disengenuous nonsense unchallenged. I doubt he's going to be losing viewers anytime soon, as the emperor's clothes are looking more and more transparent every day...

Anyway, for the sake of argument taking what you say about his audience as true, what do you want him to do about it, anyway? Tell them to shut up (he has told them to back off with certain guests, BTW)? Sternly lecture them? Practice affirmative audience action?

Eddie said...

She was just sharing her thoughts and opinion. Lighten up.

Ann Althouse said...

The latter. Affirmative action. Definitely. For the good of the show.

IrishLad said...

Thersites: It seems it's coming down to what you read. There's apparently a heck of a difference. On the left you say things like, "the emperor's clothes are looking more and more transparent every day..." On the right people would say the same thing about everything being said by the left... there's no truth or facts in it. The divide seems incredibly wide and increasingly hostile. Is there NO common ground? Clinton (who I voted for twice, by the way) couldn't do anything right according to the Republicans. Now Bush is evil according to the Dems. What happened to a middle where people could discuss matters intelligently, rather than filling every disagreement with vitriol?

I think it was worth going into Iraq, and I have reasons for that that I've thought long and hard about. I can understand if someone disagrees with me. WMDs didn't mean nearly as much to me as the fact that Saddam was thumbing his nose at the UN, was completely untrustworthy, and was an example to tyrants and would-be tyrants that they could basically get away with anything because the USA and the UN had no backbone. If I was Bin Laden, I'd have thought the USA (and the rest of the international community) was a paper tiger too. And Saddam's actions would have emboldened me. Even when Clinton was president, and I was backing him, I was seeing Saddam building palaces while complaining that his people were suffering because of the USA and the sanctions, and I could not believe he was getting away with it. I was behind Clinton and the Dems in 1998 when they called for regime change. Republicans said it was "wag the dog", but I believed Clinton when he talked of the danger Saddam posed, and his constant flauting of the cease-fire agreement and UN resolutions pissed me off.

Now I hear the left saying Bush lied (for saying the same things), saying the war wasn't worth it, that it was all about oil, etc. and I wonder what made them less agressive on the issue AFTER 9/11.

I also believe Bush is right that a democracy in the epicenter of the Middle East will have a positive effect on the region, and I agree with Hitchens that there's evidence that it's true (Libya, Lebanon, etc.).

I hope this has come off as a reasoned dialog, even if you disagree. I think that Ann's point re: Stewart and Maher is that quick denigrating wise-cracks get laughs and applause, but they don't further an understanding that may bring people to an ability to fully understand each other. Don't have to agree, but it would be nice if we could say, "I don't agree, but it appears you arrived at your conclusions honestly." And I'm talking about BOTH sides.

Thersites said...

What happened to a middle where people could discuss matters intelligently, rather than filling every disagreement with vitriol?

A war dishonestly sold and incompetently waged.

Thersites said...

The latter. Affirmative action. Definitely. For the good of the show.

Ah. Those wishing to view the taping of a TV show ought to be quizzed as to their ideology beforehand. Those who are not fans of the host must be compelled to attend such tapings on a rotational basis.

Ann Althouse said...

Thersites: You lack (perhaps willfully) the imagination to devise a technique. I can think of plenty of methods that would work. And the show does have many conservative fans.

EddieP said...

Exactly what IrishLad said.

IrishLad said...

"A war dishonestly sold and incompetently waged"

Thanks for coming back on a thoughtful argument with a one line dismissal that contains no argument, it's just a talking point. If the war was dishonestly sold (you gotta be talking about WMDs), then everybody lied about it. When Tommy Franks visited the Arab states around Iraq before the war, to a man they warned him that his troops would have to be ready for chemical weapons. Clinton, Kerry, Blair, Putin, etc. all believed Saddam had WMDs, and, given Saddam's track record with inspections (more dedicated to proving he could control them than proving he didn't have WMD, nor did he give the required info to prove they were destroyed), people had to believe that was true. If Saddam DID destroy them, it was the worst political decision in history not to do it transparently and prove it so that he could continue to appear as a bigger threat than he was (which is what HE said about why he didn't come clean).

As to "incompetently waged"... only someone who could put forth a better plan and guarantee that it would work, and guarantee that no action of the enemy would adversely affect it, can make that claim. As they say, any plan you make goes out the window upon first contact with the enemy. Anyone can stand back and claim they'd have done something better and smarter. And it's easy to say you'd do better when you don't have to prove it. Listening to people talk about the conduct of the war is like listening to people calling sports talk radio after a game, or before a season starts.

History will tell. You and I won't know until 20 years or more from now when we see how Iraq turns out, and what effect it has on the middle east. Until then, we are both just guys in the stands with a bunch of opinions.

SteveR said...

A few years ago my in-laws (not young) went to a taping of the Tonight Show with Jay Leno. They got there early and were able to get seats at the very front row, only to be moved to the back and replaced by good looking young people right before the show started.

Simon Kenton said...

Given the tenor of his posts, I believe Thersites has done the best job of any here in choosing his net-name.

PatCA said...

I have a soft spot for Stewart because after 9/11 and anthrax he made me laugh when I thought the world was edning. He was devastated, as were we all, but his comedy restored a little sanity to a hysterical world. When he then slipped into a comfy America-Bush-stupid daily routine, I tuned out. It's hard to be funny every day, but this is cheap boring shtick.

Freeman Hunt said...

LOL Simon. "head was full of obscenities, teeming with rant."

Brando said...

You need to restock your audiences. It's too packed with fans who are inflating your sense of how smart and funny you are. They may love you, but they are ruining you.

Hmmmm, change "funny" for "presidential" and I'd have the same criticism for Bush rallies and events.

Ron said...

It's harder to get a trained seal to go after a fish than it is to manipulate a TV audience to give you the reactions you want! They figured that out in the '50's...

The Mechanical Eye said...

Given the tenor of his posts, I believe Thersites has done the best job of any here in choosing his net-name.

Indeed, I'm now curious why he chose such a name. This is like naming yourself Wormtoungue or Iago.

tcd said...

Brando,
Same can be said for any Democrat rally too. Why are you still posting here? Don't you think it's time to slink back to DU?

Thersites said...

If the war was dishonestly sold (you gotta be talking about WMDs), then everybody lied about it.

Only the administration professed certainty and suppressed reasonable doubt, and pushed for war without tangible evidence. And only the administration made the case for nukes, which was always obvious hogwash, as were the Al Qaeda "connections." There is simply no question NOW that the country was misled, whatever historians say in 20 years.

As to "incompetently waged"... only someone who could put forth a better plan and guarantee that it would work, and guarantee that no action of the enemy would adversely affect it, can make that claim.

Nonsense. You don't need to provide a better plan in order to know you're being sold a line of crap. Anyone who listened critically to the "plans" for war would have known it would be a cock-up. The potential costs in money and lives were downplayed and there was obviously no real planning for the aftermath.

I do not see the "pro-war" position as legitimate or rational. Sorry. The good of the country right now requires that we hold the administration accountable for its mess, not that we promote an equality of understanding between the cheerleaders for a disaster and those who foresaw the obvious.

Thersites said...

Indeed, I'm now curious why he chose such a name. This is like naming yourself Wormtoungue or Iago.

Thersites stood up and said "this war is stupid," which it was. Then his name was dragged through the mud.

AJ Lynch said...

I like riddles but I am very stupid so would someone tell me what the inside joke is re the name "thersites"? Thanx!

Brando said...

Alot of you people really don't understand what an end justifies means argument amounts to. I am hearing more and more of saying something on the order of what IrisLad says:

History will tell. You and I won't know until 20 years or more from now when we see how Iraq turns out, and what effect it has on the middle east. Until then, we are both just guys in the stands with a bunch of opinions.

This is utterly vacuous wishful thinking. Yes, the panacea of Democracy and Security in the Middle is something I hope for too. But if you are using means-end sort of reasoning, the means are only justified if it can reasonably be predicted that the course of action that you take will actually lead to or otherwise result in the desired outcome. (Never mind that the stated justification for Iraq was WMD) This sort of “history will tell” BS just that: BS. The argument can’t be “hey, let’s invade Iraq and hope that maybe twenty years down the road we might be successful.” Had anybody listed Colin Powell and Daddy Bush they would have realized how dubious their premises were. Christ on a crutch, you people must do yoga because you’re really stretching yourself beyond the point of credulity.

Cat said...

As I said earlier today in that other space - Last night, I clicked onto Jon Stewart interviewing Trent Lott about education. Trent finishes a sentence and Jon says, "Yeah, but what is Joe Bicycler down in Crawford doing about it?" The audience goes up in whoops of laughter! HOW CLEVER he thinks he is!

Ad hominem remarks are not clever. He's like a performing chimp to his audience. Totally plays to the gallery.

He reminds me of the class tough guy who would always get a laugh by answering every thing with the same joke - "yeah? You're mom."

Cat said...

Brando - So you say you are not a "ends justifies the means" type of guy, but I bet you are a Monday morning quarterback! RIGHT? You're hindsight is 20/20, am I right?

Brando said...

uh, no, Cat, I'm just saying i'm against stupid arguments.

Thersites said...

The audience goes up in whoops of laughter! HOW CLEVER he thinks he is!

Yeah, that show is so funny and popular, nobody watches it anymore.

/Yogi Berra

stoqboy said...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thersites

Simon Kenton said...

AJ Lynch -

Reread Shakespeare's "Troilus and Cressida." Thersites is Shakespeare's greatest portrait - beyond Iago, or Lewis's Wormtongue, as Mechanical Eye mentioned - of a spirit of absolute, ranting, obscene negation. His attempt - in the play - is to vitiate all human values. This is a fair summary of his character (Act V Scene V):

Hect. What art thou, Greek? art thou for Hector’s match?
Art thou of blood and honour?
Ther. No, no, I am a rascal; a scurvy railing knave; a very filthy rogue.

Freeman Hunt said...

I think it's self-evident that surrounding yourself with admirers and sycophants will eventually degrade your work. Especially as a comedian. Your audience give you instant feedback on every moment of your act. If your audience gives you only one kind of feedback no matter how funny or unfunny you are, your work is going to suffer.

Also, just in case anyone thinks that this is hard, it is very easy to stock your audience with whatever sort of people you'd like. His audience is what it is because that's the type of audience the producers have decided on. They could easily modify it.

rgmb said...

Even I as a Maher and Stewart fan am somewhat offput at times by their cocky self-assuredness. Firstly, they are comedians, but lately they've begun to drink their own kool-aid. They both make great points, but the debate-ability of these points need to be left to those with a better handle on the facts.

R C Dean said...

As to whether the war has been incompetently waged, I would argue that from a military perspective the good guys have fought very, very well indeed.

Only someone totally ignorant of military history and realities would call the march on Baghdad incompetent.

In the low-level fighting since, the American fighting soldier has fought brilliantly and ethically, by all accounts. If anything can be called "incompetent" it is the rules of engagement that may unnecessarily tie his or her hands.

At the larger, strategic level, there is a very real argument about whether more troops would have helped or not. Personally, I think the problem in Iraq is primarily cultural/political, meaning more troops offer only a very marginal solution at best, but it is debatable.

Brando said...

I think it's self-evident that surrounding yourself with admirers and sycophants will eventually degrade your work. Especially as a comedian.

Sames goes for presidents. Irving Janis famously called this the problem of "Group Think." JFK suffered from it with regard to the Bay of Pigs fiasco, and Bush is knee-high in it, although i'm sure he's gotta be feeling alot of cognitive dissonance right now.

Ron said...

Brando: So are you saying that you would have impeached JFK over Bay of Pigs? (good thing JFK had no personal indescretions!) or LBJ over the Gulf of Tonkin resolution?

Is groupthink by any president an impeachable failing? What president would finish a term?

LarryK said...

Suppose on September 12, 2001 someone said that after 911 the US would

1. Overthrow the Taliban with almost no loss of US soldiers lives

2. Oversee the transition to a democratic regime in Afghanistan

3. Transform Pakistan from the Taliban's largest supporter to its biggest advesary, and one of the US's closest allies in the war on terror

4. Strengthen ties to India at the same time, helping to make it an effective counter to China's ambitions in the region

5. Overthrow Saddam Hussein's regime and put him in jail, awaiting trial and execution

6. Oversee the transition to a democratic regime in Iraq

7. Get Libya to voluntarily discontinue its nuclear weapons program

8. Get Syria to withdraw its troops from Lebanon

9. Get Saudi Arabia and Egypt to commit to municipal elections for the first time in their histories

10. Reduce support for terrorism and increase positive feelings for the US throughout the Islamic world

You would think that was a pretty impressive set of accomplishments - and it is - but that is exactly what the Bush administration has done (for point 10, see the recent Pew survey). Yes, not everything has gone as planned, and the costs have been high, but the world is so much better off and American citizens much safer than before 911. Needless to say, none of this would have happened with a Democratic administration or if people like Thersites and Brando were in charge. Thankfully they're not, they're just sniping from the sidelines while history is being made.

Thersites and Brando, your old road is rapidly aging, please get out of the new one if you can't lend your hand.

AJ Lynch said...

Simon:
Thanks for the Thersites explanation; you were very thorough and clear. Will take your word on it since I never liked Shakespeare. But I am well-rounded enough to know he once played quarterback at Notre Dame.

Re Maher and Stewart:
Maher has not been funny for years. He is so strident and I suspect he is a very unhappy individual.

Stewart's show is still very funny when a segment does not involve him. His supporting staff and writers are talented.

Thersites said...

His audience is what it is because that's the type of audience the producers have decided on. They could easily modify it.

Prove it. last I heard they gave tickets away to anyone who requests them.

I think it's self-evident that surrounding yourself with admirers and sycophants will eventually degrade your work.

Hence our administration's lunatic foreign policy.

Sloanasaurus said...

I am tired of arguing about the war with the various posters here. New posters can be confident that every point has been made and remade.

However, I am willing to argue about the effects of history and how the ends justify the means.

One should step back and consider World War II without the holocaust. Would it have been worth 350,000 American lives to save parts of Europe from Fascist Dictatorship? It would certainly change the debate. Evidence of the holocaust ended this debate forever...yet the holocaust was not known of at the time America entered the war.

Further, it is well known that FDR circumvented the law and lied to the American public and Congress in his aggression towards Nazi Germany in 1940-1941. It was well known that FDR wanted to get the U.S. into the war.

Should we consider Roosevelt a criminal even though his lies and and actions helped saved the world from tyraanny?

Pogo said...

I used to love Stewart. Laugh out loud funny. I drifted away over time, admittedly because of the unilateral attacks on Bush before the election. I mean please, Kerry and Edwards were a comedian's dream couple. The material wrote itself. Sure, mock Bush. But why lay off Kerry? What's not to mock there? It was almost too easy.

As a result, I hadn't watched him in over a year, but caught the Hithchens visit quite by accident.

Stewart did indeed score some points, which was certainly his intention. Hitchens seemed off, uncomfortable perhaps; why I cannot say. Entertaining? No. Informative? No.

So, 5 fewer viewers in this household. No skin off his nose, to be sure. He should have learned what Carson knew, and kept him on for decades: keep yourself out of it.

Sloanasaurus said...

To add to Larry: The world is rid of Saddam and his use of $70 per barrel oil.

Sloanasaurus said...

Ron: also add in impeaching FDR over Social Security. Talk about lies and misleading millions of Americans. I just found out that there is no lock box.....what the......

How about the "war on Poverty." I am sure more americans lost lives and money in that war. What a total sham.

Freeman Hunt said...

Prove it. last I heard they gave tickets away to anyone who requests them.

Do you have a mental block about this? Why would you think that a television show leaves something as important as the audience unmanaged?

You can choose the venue you use to give away tickets. You can choose to hand them out at the door to hardcore fans who will arrive hours early, or you can hand them out elsewhere. You can choose where to advertise the free tickets. By choosing the venues and advertising you use to give away tickets, you can choose your audience. This is very basic marketing.

I'll ignore the comment about the president as that is entirely off the topic of audience selection for a television show.

XWL said...

The real news that Stewart mimics doesn't have a live audience, his fake news show doesn't need one either.

Live audiences are only helpful to comedians if they are honest, skeptical and discerning. If the feedback the comedian gets is uniformly and wildly positive like what Stewart receives, that must be deadly to perspective, timing and craft.

And the 'but he's only a comedian' defense of Stewart when discussing him is undercut by the fact that those same people often attempt to inflate the cultural importance of his show by pointing out that his target audience aren't avid consumers of traditional media.

miklos rosza said...

the ad hominems are repellent. "dishonest," "incompetent," "stupid," "lunatic," etc. does it make you feel all-powerful to indulge in namecalling from behind a mask?

do you realize that people rallied to president clinton because they were repelled by the clinton-haters? just so, people are repelled by those who seem to have a form of tourette's about bush.

Brando said...

Larry: So are you saying that you would have impeached JFK over Bay of Pigs? (good thing JFK had no personal indescretions!) or LBJ over the Gulf of Tonkin resolution?
Is groupthink by any president an impeachable failing? What president would finish a term?


JFK admitted that he made a mistake. Group think occurs when groups do not do a sufficient amount of reality testing or otherwise give serious consideration to alternative explanation for things. No, I wouldn’t impeach a president over making a mistake, but I would impeach a president over not doing enough reality-testing. This would fall under the heading of due-dilegence.

There were plenty of CIA analysises out there that had reasonable explanations for everything the administration was spouting. WMD and mushroom clouds, treat us like liberators, oil would pay for war, there would be few causualites, bio terrist truck labs, we wont need many troops, and the list continues to go on. Couldn’t we have even waited even a few months to get a better handle on a few of these key issues? 9/11 does not justify going into crazy neo-con bizarro world.

With BushCo, I think it is not only clear that they did not do enough reality testing, but the only explanation I can come up with to explain their continual rationale revisions is that they actively cooked the facts to fit their pre-detmined ideas. This is a dangerous and pre-eminently impeachable, and if you don’t think so, you are out of your fucking mind.

Oh yeah, back to Stewart. I think he’s funny.

Aaron said...

I think there is a long term v. short term trade off. While a critical audience or even some slightly hostile audience members might keep Stewart on his toes over the long haul they are useless in papering over the weak jokes that are going to be made if you produce a show every day. A large bunch of enthused fans are going to keep the energy up when the material flags.

There are, of course ratings and other indicators to let them know how the show is going over. This is not as visceral as the reactions of a live audience so may not bring Stewarts performance up as much as the thud of a poorly recieved joke. They also do moment by moment tracking of shows with test audiences but - once again - not the same punch as the sound of crickets coming from the audience.

One of the problems with keeping a show fresh is that with as many people are involved in a show like this people can pass the buck for quite a while. Blame marketing, writers, producers, host and circle around again if there is a problem.

My major criticism is that a never ending satirical view of the world is poisonous over the long haul. I also think that without some baseline beliefs jaded cynicism or irony is about the closest you can get to sincerity. This can grow unattractive. Especially since satire needs to keep pushing to maintain its impact and either your jokes grow weaker or more divorced from the subject you are covering if you keep satirizing the same subject for years.

Thersites said...


You can choose the venue you use to give away tickets.


Great! So, how does the Daily Show apportion tickets? You seem absolutely sure they do it in a specific way for specific reasons. So I assume you've researched this and have firm evidence to back up your claims. Surely you're just not shooting your mouth off?

Thersites said...

the ad hominems are repellent. "dishonest," "incompetent," "stupid," "lunatic," etc. does it make you feel all-powerful to indulge in namecalling from behind a mask?

We're describing a policy, not a person. Now go look up "ad hominem."

Aaron said...

Thersites,

The audience is self-selecting with people calling or writing about a month in advance for tickets. I personally don't know where it is advertised beyond the Comedy Central website. It seems clear that they could recruit quite economically from folks who aren't necessarily already fanns.

Brando said...

Sure, mock Bush. But why lay off Kerry? What's not to mock there? It was almost too easy.

Fair and balanced Fox News took care of that.

Thersites said...

10. Reduce support for terrorism and increase positive feelings for the US throughout the Islamic world

So much spin, so little space. The Pew poll you reference registers (very modest) improvements in the attitudes of Islamic countries towards the US from June of this year; your own starting date for your overall analysis is 9/12/01. There's a problem.

Let's instead go to the Pew poll of 12/19/01, where we read that "ordinary people" in Islamic states were 52% favorable to the US.

Now let's look at the poll you cite, from 7/14/05. Of the five Islamic countries surveyed, the highest the US gets is Morocco, with 49% (though there's no elite/ordinary breakdown; if the attitudes from the '01 poll hold, it's much less among "ordinary" Moroccans). The lowest we get in the 7/14 poll is Jordan, with 21%, and Turkey, with 23%. Pakistan comes in at 23% also. (And viz. Iraq & Afghanistan, Turkey & Pakistan are probably the most relevant countries.)

Now, there are a lot of variables here, too many to take into account in a comment post. But your claim that the Iraq war has made us more popular in the eyes of Muslims is obvious crap. As for support for terrorism, terrorists don't need a lot of popular support, except in war zones, and the ones in Iraq seem to have all they need. But anyway. Look with a cold eye at the Pew numbers on terrorism over time, and if they make you feel happy, you're nuts. (We know from the State Dept. that terrorism is up worldwide.)

There are similar problems with the rest of your list.

Less fantasy, please. Makes the heart brutal, I hear.

Daddy Warbucks said...

He should practice "affirmative audience action."

That's rich.

Gotta wonder what would happen to Bush if he did that with his audiences. . .

Aaron said...

Once again Thersites and the rest of his ilk ignore the subject at hand to go off on their anti-Bush obsession. I mention the uncomfortable fact that The Daily Show uses a self-selecting process doomed to create audiences full of hard-core fans. Rather than deal with this fact which should rock him to the core he continues to obsess over the Iraq war. Priorities. That is the problem. Keep on talking about your hobby horses. I'll win the debate on Mr. Stewart.

Aaron said...

Bush has a level of job security that John Stewart can only sit and envy. Well - one is a civil servant and the other is in business. That is the way it goes. Of course, Stewart makes more so that seems a fair trade off.

Freeman Hunt said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
miklos rosza said...

thersites:

so you don't see language such as "your claim is... obvious crap" as ad hominem. or telling me to look ad hominem up in the dictionary when i had four years of latin. a snide manner laced with taunting, insulting adjectives qualifies-- maybe too broadly in your opinion -- as ad hominem in effect and tone so that yes, basically what comes through is the namecalling. you besmirch your own arguments.

because one has to consider the source. and few listen seriously to someone who constantly sneers.

Brando said...

aaron, i suggest you give a little reflection on your hobbie horse, mindless, sychophant supporter of bush. fine, you win the "argument" on Stewart.

Aaron said...

Brando,

Thanks for conceeding the Stewart argument to me. It was very big of you. I shall be magnanimous in victory as much as you have been gracious in defeat.

You were very close in figuring out my hobby horses. Suspiciously close.

Goatwhacker said...

While I don't think Maher or Stewart are anywhere near as entertaining as they think they are, and agree the lack of occasional negative feedback from the audience leaves them the poorer, the idea of seeking out audience members with different viewpoints seems a little silly. Their audiences are self-selecting by people who like and agree with them, just like other audiences. If Jay Leno started telling only GWB jokes, eventually his audience would self-select by people who like that type of joke.

Eventually Maher and Stewart will sink or swim on their ability to attract a large enough TV audience, which is how it should be.

Ann Althouse said...

I'm not saying Maher and Stewart should put people in the audience who don't like the show, just that the audience should "feel" to us at home like normal people, not a bunch of Michael Moorish goons. I consider Maher and Stewart to be normal, smart guys whom I would enjoy talking to one-on-one. I like to watch their shows. But their audience is ruining it. Satire should have some dimension and subtlety. It shouldn't be enough to say "Bush is stupid" and get roaring laughter. I feel like the audience is providing that kind of cheap laugh track. I'm turned off by the show the way I'm turned off by a sitcom with canned laughter laid on way too thick.

Thersites said...


I'm not even sure what you're arguing for and why.


You say they CAN do something. And you believe that proves that they DO do something. That's silly.

Please provide the evidence that they DO do what you claim, that is, only let in sycophants. Since they give away tickets for free and all you need to do to get them is sign up and wait, your claim seems pretty idiotic to me, barring any proof to the contrary. Which you obviously lack.

I think you're baffled because you don't understand what "evidence" actually is.

Thersites said...

ust that the audience should "feel" to us at home like normal people, not a bunch of Michael Moorish goons.

Well, Stewart does, to me. Most people by most recent polls think Bush is not convincing about the war, also, so your view of what a "normal person" is may be skewed. The majority of the nation right now is pretty down on Bush.

Michael Moore makes a handy demon, doesn't he? I doubt most of the country agrees with you there, either.

If it makes you feel better, I always thought Maher was kind of an unfunny jerk.

Ann Althouse said...

Thersites: You look like a troll in this thread. If you have some other motivation for your obtuseness, it's time to put up. Otherwise, I recommend that people ignore you.

Coco said...

I'm not sure that any successful television show would want to tinker with its audience unless they somehow believe the audience itself is affecting its ratings. I have no reason to believe this is true for the Daily Show and so wouldn't expect them to change. Of course, if enough people who otherwise enjoy the show are put off by the audience's reactions to jokes and some sort of polling indicated this was the cause I'm sure the they would come up with some sort of mechanism that allocated tickets in a way to esnure they got the audience they desired. My guess (and its just a guess) is that the producers of the show don't even consider this a problem...at least at this point.

I still find Stewart funny and the show very funny. Of course his shtick has gotten a bit predictable but mostly becuase the source material has gotten a bit predictable. Its a completely reactice show that deals on big news events.

The current administration is always in the news so its not surprising that they continue to be a major source for the jokes. But this would be true regardless of which party was in the White House. Political leanings aside, I'm sure the writers would have welcomed a Kerry victory because it would have provided relatively fresh material.

Four years later, however, we'd be having the same criticisms of the show becuase Kerry's foibles would be well known (and I'm certain his administration would have developed its own MO that was deserving of irony and mockery) and less fresh.

The show's limitations are based on the daily news cycle (which is why they need all of the skits).

I can't say anything to defend Bill Maher. His show is sometimes funny but always annoying - even if I agree with a particular point he's trying to make. That's his real problem really - that HE is always trying to shove a point down your throat rather than let the source material make the point for him - and why in my opinion the Daily Show is so much better.

Ann Althouse said...

My last comment was posted before your most recent one, but again, you're being obtuse. I'm not complaining about Stewart, but his audience. Really, try to pick up the quality of your comments. You seem like you're just trying to bait people. Read the comments you're responding to before spouting.

knoxgirl said...

I second that--please ignore trolls. They will stop posting.

Larry said...

I know we all know about trolls and not feeding them and so on -- but it seems like it needs to be said: "Thersites" and "Brando" are trolls, pure and simple. They're just political/ideological spam, who recycle old Democratic Underground insults, throw in the odd Talking Point or bumper sticker, and then sit back and enjoy the attention they get. Granted, responding to such specimens can sometimes be a way to pass the time, especially since they can be relied upon to never go away, but I really don't think anybody should expect anything resembling intelligence back from them.

Thersites said...

My last comment was posted before your most recent one, but again, you're being obtuse. I'm not complaining about Stewart, but his audience. Really, try to pick up the quality of your comments. You seem like you're just trying to bait people. Read the comments you're responding to before spouting.

OK, I misread your post. So you're not complaining about Stewart. The audience also seems normal to me -- normal as far as fans of Stewart go. If you're asking the producers of a successful show to keep its most passionate fans out of the audience to solve a problem for whose existence only subjective evidence exists, well, I don't see why they should.

And your comment about Michael moore also seems to lack substance.

In this very thread you have Freeman Hunt making claims he clearly can't support, and LarryK making a poor case from publicly available polling data. Is that a better quality poster than someone who disagrees with you about a matter that is clearly one primarily of taste?

Coco said...

I'm not sure why I'm entering this fray...but as a somewhat regular reader of this site (but very infrequent poster), if the definition of trolling is the repetition of smug party politics talking points (which I agree is very tedius and unintersting), there is a lot of trolling in the comments section by poth sides of the political spectrum. I'd be thrilled and the comments portion of this fine blog would be far better in my opinion if everyone left the talking points out of their comments.

Ann Althouse said...

I'm saying maybe a third of the audience should be restocked by offering the tickets through channels that will bring in different kinds of people. Also, I think the audience should be talked to before the show about phoney overreaction and how it plays to the home audience.

Coco said...

I apologize for the spelling gaffes....see, its just better if I don't post at all ;)

Ann Althouse said...

I especially dislike applauding as a reaction to a joke. I'd tell the audience to laugh naturally and not to see itself as a cheering section. Even if the viewpoint is skewed anti-Bush, I'd be happy if the audience just laughed naturally -- rather than politically.

Coco said...

In a normative sense I agree wholeheartedly with you Ann. The show would be better if the audience did not react politically to the material. I just don't think its that realistic of a goal. In fact, I think that if you did try to mix up the audience to get a wider mix of the political spectrum you'd end up with more political reactions than you have now as the audience would feed off of each other.

The politics is not surprising though. For example, a good portion of your entries on your blog that have nothing to do with politics per se morph into political discussions among the readers. Its the age of political dissension.

Freeman Hunt said...

Please provide the evidence that they DO do what you claim, that is, only let in sycophants.

I did not make this claim. The producers have decided to leave the audience to some sort of self-selection which has resulted in sycophants and admirers. The producers have not changed their methods in response meaning that they currently think the audience make up is okay. Allowing audience self-selection is a means of controlling the audience.

My entire point has been that the audience can be modified. In your second post you act as though this is impossible. It is not. An audience is easily modified.

If you posted less based on naked, generalized rage and more based on reading comprehension, your posts would be better.

Having read your posts in this thread, I will not be reading or responding to your posts anymore. It is a total waste of time.

Ann, I think that your ideas would go a long way. The talk prior to the show alone would probably correct a lot of the problem right away.

Thersites said...

I'm saying maybe a third of the audience should be restocked by offering the tickets through channels that will bring in different kinds of people. Also, I think the audience should be talked to before the show about phoney overreaction and how it plays to the home audience.

OK... all I'm saying is, I think a lot of the audience IS reacting politically, and that might be one of the reasons for the show's success. You may be underestimating the degree of anger towards Bush in the population. In which case, from Comedy Central's point of view, there is no problem. After all, its attempt at "balance," that horrible Colin Quinn show, tanked, and should have been put out of its misery earlier.

So from a business perspective, if we want to go there, I think you'd have to prove to CC that there is more in it for them to go for you as an audience member than the one that's worked for them so far. I don't think that case can be made very persuasively. I could be wrong. Let's find data.

And FWIW, I can recall several times when Stewart (and Maher) have told the audience to give a conservative guest a break (Maher did it with Ann Coulter).

Ann Althouse said...

Yeah, one of the reasons I'm offering my advice to them is that I think they know it's a problem. I'm trying to encourage them to solve it more proactively.

Freeman Hunt said...

I think that if you did try to mix up the audience to get a wider mix of the political spectrum you'd end up with more political reactions than you have now as the audience would feed off of each other.

I think it depends on the personalities you go for. You could give out tickets through channels that would provide audience members of a less combative nature. Maybe they could go for people who love the show but wouldn't be coming to try and "stick it to the other guy." Maybe go for people who love stand up comedy (I would market to a list of people who have attended certain stand up comedy clubs in the last few months) but aren't necessarily politically charged.

Thersites said...


If you posted less based on naked, generalized rage and more based on reading comprehension, your posts would be better.


Funny. I was going to say the same to you. You find a conspiracy in the fact that a successful show offers free tickets and its fans take them, and believe that this should be changed. That makes no sense to me at all.

My whole POINT is that the audience is self-selecting. Sheesh. That's called... the market. Shudder.

Thersites said...

Yeah, one of the reasons I'm offering my advice to them is that I think they know it's a problem.

Why do you think they know it's a problem?

Ann Althouse said...

All right. I'm at the end of my patience with you, Thersites, because if you were reading carefully, you'd know that I was responding to what YOU said, which indicated the reason I think they know they have a problem. I'm not going to spell it out. Keep up with the thread. Otherwise, you're boring me. Go back and read. The answer is in there.

Thersites said...

Excuse me for asking. When you said "they" I thought you meant Comedy Central & HBO, not the hosts.

Sorry for missing the pronoun...

Freeman Hunt said...

http://www.usatoday.com/life/television/nielsen-more.htm

Source: Nielsen Media Research, May 30-Aug. 14

Number of viewers in millions.

1.The Tonight Show with Jay Leno (NBC) 4.3
2.The Late Show with David Letterman (CBS) 3.2
3.Nightline (ABC) 2.6
4.Late Night with Conan O'Brien (NBC) 2.0
5.The Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson 1.4
6.Jimmy Kimmel Live (ABC) 1.2
7.The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (Comedy Central) 0.6

Those are the most current ratings. Anyone have a link to some older ones for comparison?

Joseph Angier said...

I think they do know it's a problem (or at least have given lip service to it). I remember an interview from last season wherein Bill Maher claimed to be getting weary of the knee-jerk cheering that broke out at all the "appropriate" moments, and said he was looking for ways to get a more diverse audience in. I have no idea what, if anything, he's done about that.

ploopusgirl said...

Honestly, what do you want from Stewart, Althouse? You act as if...

I kid.

Really though, Thersites: I very.. generally agree with you politically (though veering further and further away..), but I'm lost as to how this is relevant in this thread whatsoever. Stewart and Maher are comedians, despite the political leanings of their comedy styles and audiences, while Bush is the president. The two positions are not comparable. At all.

Also, you're being more antagonistic than I am. Go back and reread your discourse with Freeman: you were obnoxiously antagonistic. :) Oh, and she won your little debate anyways.

Sloanasaurus said...

I used to like Bill Maher, but like many people the war has made him and my reaction to him more intense about that subject, which also influences other subjects. I think it is harder to make jokes about Bush and the Government because Government has become a lot more serious in the last few years - it is too easy to fall into unfunny territory. Perhaps people in comedy long for the Clinton years It was the pinnacle of Presidential jokes because times were much less serious (or so they appeared) and Clinton himself was a clown. The 1990s is when everyone overindulged, plotted, planned, defrauded, etc... The 2000s is when we had to to pay for all the fun (just ask KPMG).

PatCA said...

Aaron,
I think you hit the nail on the head. An unrelieved ironical stance is just a bore. (Just like unrelieved troll talking points are a bore.) Stewart's real emotion after 9/11 was what everyone responded to; now it's just the true believers who are left.

AJ Lynch said...

Anne:
Congrats on posting a subject that got the old audience juices flowing. Got a little nasty though. Funny as it was started by two comedians.

But I got a free lesson on William Shakespeare and I gave the readers one too (anyone of you notice it?). I think not.

Serenity Now said...

Ann Althouse: [Jon Stewart] was once charmingly humble.

When? He oozed self-adoration long before he started hosting The Daily Show.

AJ Lynch: Stewart's show is still very funny when a segment does not involve him. His supporting staff and writers are talented.

Exactly! Stephen Colbert and Rob Corddry are > Stewart.

Aaron said...

One thing I find interesting is that I have heard Stewart decry the Bush administration's stance on the MSM. He, rightly, I think believes that Bush's attitude on the press corps is to not try and manage the news cycle but show the media to be irresponsible, ideological, un-professional, and unreliable. Since this is exactly where Stewart gets half his comedy from it may be that he has some professional rather than political issues with Bush. You can tell the joke is over when even Republicans from Texas are using the same punchlines. Maybe this is why Ann is not as in to it as before.

somross said...

It's not just 9/11 that made audiences watch Stewart: during the months and weeks leading up to the election, you could watch the show and see lots of people who normally would appear on the Sunday morning shows take a shot at political comedy, including, I think, Bob Dole, Ken Mehlman, chairman of the RNC, and John McCain. We even kept a few of those election season TiVo'd shows. But after the election our household's interest waned: less drama with no close election to bite our nails about. But he is an adorable North Jersey boy and an antidote to the Tony Soprano stereotype: he's the guy people wish they had gone to high school with. About the audience: why is it never shown? Not showing the audience is as much a convention as panning it. I'm guessing because it may be made up almost exclusively of young men.

lindsey said...

He's become too partisan. I used to love him because he gored both sides mercilessly. Now, ehhh. Sometimes I'll watch a clip on the internet. I'm dying for Stephen Colbert's new show. I hope it's not as partisan.

They should give out tickets for Stewart's show at tourist places so they get a more evenly matched political audience.

I also want to see Hitchens debate Stewart in a real debate, not Galloway.

Brando said...

I especially dislike applauding as a reaction to a joke. I'd tell the audience to laugh naturally and not to see itself as a cheering section. Even if the viewpoint is skewed anti-Bush, I'd be happy if the audience just laughed naturally -- rather than politically.

Ann, all I am getting from your thread here is that you would like Stewart to be nicer or more respectful of some of his guests. Right now, it strikes me that the format is geared such that the audience can join in on the public humiliation of some of these wingnut guests. Hence the at times seemingly canned laughter. Indeed, this is not Jay-Lenno-like spontaneous natural laughter, but jeering politically motivated laughter. Seems like a perfectly good strategy to me. I am not sure why this is a "problem."

So, Ann, is your critique a normative one or a matter of taste? If the latter, remember that the audience for this highly successful show is people who are liberal, educated, informed and between that ages of 19-29 yr olds. Don't see why this core demographic is going to have a problem being made party to the humiliation of right wing blowhards. And I trust Stewart's judgment in determining who deserves respect and who doesn't. (Hint: Trent Lott and Hitchens, for example, don't.)

I mean, why should the producers at Daily Show follow your "advice"?

knoxgirl said...

Brando--

the applause is pandering and distracting. Watch "Conan O'Brien" every now and then... quite often a joke tanks, and he deals with it (very effectively). This is an example of genuine host-audience interaction. A comedian who doesn't need to take risks because it has become too easy to please the audience becomes boring. This is the dynamic on the Daily Show.

You could be right--Stewart very well could continue to please the audience who agrees with him indefinitely. But it doesn't make for a good comedy show for the rest of us.

Larry said...

knoxgirl: You could be right--Stewart very well could continue to please the audience who agrees with him indefinitely. But it doesn't make for a good comedy show for the rest of us.

And "the audience who agrees with him" is increasingly made up just of wingers and left-wing blowhards, like the two who've been trolling here. Reason enough for Stewart and his producers to be concerned.

Craig said...

thersites posted:

"Only the administration professed certainty and suppressed reasonable doubt, and pushed for war without tangible evidence."

Here's your tangible evidence of WMD's...

http://www.kdp.pp.se/chemical.html

I know you won't visit the site, so let me summarize. Saddam used chemical weapons on civilians. After Gulf War I, the UN required he destroy those weapons and document such destruction. After 12 years, he had failed to do so, and took an active role in thwarting the UN effort to verify the destruction.

So I guess it boils down to this.... You were willing to trust Uncle Saddam, and I wasn't. That's the debate we should be having....

stoqboy said...

I read all the posts yesterday, and many of the ones I missed today, so somebody may have mentioned this: What about audience prep? I attended a taping of Welcome Back, Kotter in 1978 and they were prepping the audience with a comedian and instructions. I would venture a guess that they do it on The Daily Show. Even if you don't self select, show prep could be designed to create something of a mob mentality so that everyone acts together. Anybody been to a show lately?

Veeshir said...

I just wish they would bring back Craig Kilborn.
That show was 1000% better with him.

dw said...

I used to love that show, but I can't stand it anymore. Just saying "Bush is stupid" is NOT FUNNY. Get a grip, people. The audience laughs and hoots at the Bush-bashing like it was a political pep-rally at MoveOn.org. Maybe they should take their show on the road and do one from Kansas City, Cincinnatti or Denver instead of Los Angeles, because Jon's audience acts like a mob, and they wouldn't know funny if it smacked them upside the head.

Icarus said...

I found THIS to be hilariously appropriate .... and another truly funny display of the lack of education among liberals.

Nice name, Thersites. You dolt!:

"Thersites
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
In Greek mythology, Thersites, son of Agrius, was a rank-and-file soldier of the Greek army during the Trojan War.

Homer described him in detail in the Iliad, even though he plays only a minor role in the story. He is said to be bow-legged, lame and had shoulders that caved inward. His head was covered in tufts of hair and came to a point. He was vulgar, obscene, somewhat dull-witted, and Homer has much fun at his expense. He called Agamemnon greedy and Achilles a coward, causing Odysseus to hit him with Agamemnon's sceptre.

According to later stories, Achilles eventually killed him for making fun of Achilles' grief over the death of Penthesilea.

Along with many of the major figures of the Trojan War, Thersites was also a character in Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida. He begins as Ajax' slave, telling Ajax, "I would thou didst itch from head to foot and I had the scratching of thee; I would make thee the loathsomest scab in Greece." Thersites soon leaves Ajax and puts himself into the service of Achilles (portrayed by Shakespeare as kind of bohemian figure), who appreciates his bitter, caustic humor."

Priceless, kid. Just priceless.

Robin said...

You know, I watch Maher for the angst factor. He is such a pessimist that I'm pretty sure that I'm going to hear the worst spin on any current news story. He's irreverent and obnoxious.

However, he did make an attempt at the end of the last season to have actual debate on his show, complete with conservative figures, who mostly demonstrated:

1) a great sense of humor (Lt Gov. Michael Steele from Maryland was one - he was terrific)

2) a real sense of seriousness about their subject

I think it's been a really good thing to see serious people taking on Maher and his celebrity guests as they spew the NY Times, despite the audience factor. Chris Rock was on recently and appeared drunk and incoherent as he complained about the cost of gasoline. His co-panelists, both conservatives, made him look like the a-- he is.

I get the impression that Maher wants to have serious discussions, however he doesn't want to be shown up, it is his show after all. Andrew Sullivan was on last season and basically controlled the dialogue from beginning to end and made some very sane arguments that Maher really couldn't respond to. There was a noticeable drop in conservative guests for a while afterwards.

I didn't see Coulter on the show, but boy do I admire her for going in front of that audience.

As for Stewart, well he's a lightweight. He's cute and he's funny, but I always think about how painful it must be to be married to him and listen to that smugness 24/7. I watch his show maybe once every few months. He's obviously a smart guy and frankly I admire any conservative who goes on his show. You've got to be quick on your feet to keep up with him.

Political figures have decided to give these shows some meat by appearing on them. Is this great for the issues of the day to be treated as food for comedy hacks? Is this where we want the conversation to begin - on a comedy show? I wonder this, but then I remember that I was once pretty liberal and it was by hearing the arguments of conservatives and recognizing the validity of their stances on many issues that I slid to the right.

So perhaps Maher and Stewart are doing conservatives a favor by giving them a forum to share ideas and demonstrate their humor and humanity.

Dick Caramel said...

These two men have changed our culture and now Stephen Colbert is doing it too. They are doing fine. Who balances their audiences? There are focus groups, and do they even need those to carry on?

And I believe Maher started encouraging conservatives to come to his show last season and even commented that he was surprised how respectful they were. And Maher has brought on some few very intelligent conservatives as guests. And so does Stewart now.

But look how much of an impact they have had on everyone here. Some comedians say they do what they do to make us think, and we often dismiss it, unwilling to comprehend the impact a person can have on us. But they do. They make you at least want to be sharper and find away to discredit them, even if it is just attacking their audience mixture or use of "ad hominem." And though it is really impossible to match those movers of society by trying to pull them down via minor character defects that may or may not be there, it is a step in the right direction.

These men are smart. These two have earned their position through their talent, and they operate on a different level than the average human being. In many ways, they should be seen as heroes of conservatism, or of the free market really. A rising tide lifts all boats. Plus, even though it might not make much sense, I see them as a bit Randian.

Anyways. Whoever they might pull in for an audience, how much more can they really help? They are already popular. People who dislike the show may not laugh for the wrong reasons just as people who like the show may laugh for the wrong ones. Bill Maher and his audience might both think Bush is stupid, but I really doubt they have the same reasons for doing so. If Bill wants to be politically incorrect, I am sure he would readily admit that he believes the president to be much more intelligence than the vast majority of his audience.

I dislike Bush, but I would never consider myself more intelligent than him when I have not come anywhere near to matching his accomplishments, yet want to. I disagree with Secretary Rice, yet I love how she makes me think of Dagny Taggert.

Ryan said...

Everyone keeps talking about this universal belief that Iraq had WMDs, which isn't true at all. In fact, the only group on the ground in Iraq, led by Hans Blix, said there weren't, and protested the hurried invasion based on the lack of evidence.

Venkat said...

If Jon and Bill are not in the american televison,by this time,most sensible will shoot themself by watching stupid and dumb newsreader and talk show hosts from CNN or MSNBC