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Rally To Restore Sanity: Jon Stewart Assesses The Risks

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One of the extant concerns people seem to have about the upcoming Rally To Restore Sanity is that Jon Stewart may risk his brand by expanding his reach into the realm of the political. This rather misses the fact that one cannot offer political commentary without being "political," but never mind -- this is what happens when "being political" gets reduced in the public imagination to picking a partisan side and embracing a set of poll-tested talking points. On the other hand, I basically see this as a veteran stand-up comic taking his time-tested act to a new and different venue. That comes with risks, but not the ones all these latter-day cultural critics want to talk about.

For what it's worth, it looks like Stewart has the right perspective on the matter. Via Chris Smith at Daily Intel:

Stewart has, until now, been careful about crossing the line from satire to overt activism and preachiness. The Rally could, at the very least, jump over the line before hopping back. "Yeah, it's a little more dangerous," he said. "I don't know that it's activist as much as it would be cathartic. Just sending out a little message: There are other people like you who think things are a little extreme. It's not, 'You must vote Democratic, you must vote Republican.' It's not legalize pot or any of that kind of stuff. I still think as long as we do it and make it funny and satirical, we'll be okay. Though I could be kidding myself."

There will be people who'll read into Stewart's "I could be kidding myself," as confirmation of their belief that he should cancel the Rally to Restore Sanity, but I rather think that just about every comedian who gets up on the stage is making the decision to cross a line and find out first-hand, in one of the toughest performance environments I can think of, whether they truly have something inside them that's of value to others or if they've been kidding themselves. When you listen to the way comedian Mike Birbiglia talks about taking his act in a more personal direction, he frames those risks in the same way:

"My father would say, 'The more people know about you, the more they can use it against you.' Which always sent shivers down my spine 'cause it has like an open-ended fear to it -- like the fear you have when you're driving and you see a cop and you're not speeding and you don't have drugs, but you think, 'I hope he doesn't notice I'm driving.' Ten-and-two, sitting upright.

But I think my mom and other people have said, 'It's a very Italian trait.' My dad is up a few generations back but of Sicilian descent and my sister Patti has said to me that when she went to visit Sicily, [people there] have that kind of mentality. ... I think that's how I ended up being a comedian, as a reaction to that mentality."

I'm looking forward to seeing tomorrow's performance with fresh eyes, to discover whether the jokes work or if the jokes flop, and whether the venue and the occasion overwhelm the content or enable it. A key question: What will Stewart and Colbert put at stake? Great comedy isn't cautious. Those who worry about Stewart embracing some new risk have it precisely backwards: the best reason to cancel the rally would be if all these comedians plan to do is play it safe.

Stewart summed it up like this: "You either have a deft hand with it or you don't... You can butcher it. That's the danger of it. That's also the excitement of it." That's the tradition he's steeped in and those are the risks he takes. Later on Saturday night, there'll be some nameless performer in some anonymous comedy club who'll be facing the same set of choices. There will be a nagging voice in her head telling her that it's not worth the risk. It will have the same pestering, tinny whine as these rally scolds. She needs to not listen.

READ THE WHOLE THING:
Red Tape vs. Sanity at Jon Stewart's Rally [Daily Intel]

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