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Memo to Jon Stewart: Tread Lightly and Carry a Big Schtick


Dear Jon --

I have a sneaking suspicion you're kinda busy right now, holed up in a windowless room somewhere with a bunch of funny guys trying to figure out what will make a reputed 1 billion people laugh on Sunday.

And I can only imagine all the last-minute advice you are being given on matters small (what to wear) and big (who are we kidding: what to wear!).

So forgive me for adding to the cacophony of suggestions you're getting but I feel the need to offer my two cents on the water-cooler question of how much of your signature brand of scathing political humor you should work into your Oscar-hosting gig.

I know a lot of people are hoping you'll hit the stage of the Kodak Theater with your political guns blazing and the Bush crowd in your crosshairs but -- and it pains me to say this -- I'm hoping you proceed down that road with extreme caution.

It pains me because I'm not exactly a flashing-yellow-light kind of girl. Indeed, I've always been a big believer in putting the pedal to the metal -- especially when it comes to mercilessly ridiculing our leaders on their lies and hypocrisies.

But politics and the Oscars have a long history of going together about as well as Muslims and Danish cartoons. And I can't stand the thought of you ending up a bug on Oscar's windshield.

You see, you are too valuable an asset. I don't mean to come across like Kathy Bates in Misery, but your work on the Daily Show has turned you into a national treasure, one of the very few public figures willing to speak truth to power -- and able to do it in a consistently and brilliantly funny way. You are carrying on the noble tradition of comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.

So the last thing we need is have you fall on your face at your big coming-out party (this ain't basic cable, my friend).

I'm not telling you anything you don't know: the Academy Awards is a notoriously rough room for comedians. The Oscar stage is littered with the carcasses -- and damaged reputations -- of many of those who have come before you (Two words: "Uma, Oprah." Letterman is still trying to get that stink off of him eleven years later).

And trying to transform the Oscar podium into a bully pulpit has an even worse track record. Think Brando and Sacheen Littlefeather. Documentary producer Bert Schneider reading a telegram from the Viet Cong delegation at the Paris peace talks (and Frank Sinatra's rebuke). Vanessa Redgrave's comments about "Zionist hoodlums" (and Paddy Chayefsky's rebuke). Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins complaining about the treatment of HIV-infected Haitian refugees. Richard Gere lobbying for an independent Tibet. Michael Moore's "fictitious times" rant. Each of these did little to advance the cause being espoused and more to ensure a spot on future Most Annoying Oscar Moments lists.

And it's not because most of the points being made weren't important or worthy. But the Oscars are a self-congratulatory celebration of Hollywood excess. A night for fashion and gossip and $100,000 bags of swag. Interjecting too much political commentary -- no matter how trenchant or hilarious -- is like interrupting the eulogy at a funeral to make a political point.

At the same time, there is no denying the fact, Jon, that you are going to have the rapt attention of some 40 million Americans. Or that political satire -- done right -- can alter people's perceptions (there's a reason emperors have always banned court jesters in times of crisis). Or that a heaping dose of your perception-altering mockery would do the American body politic a load of good.

I mean, just in the week that you've put the Daily Show on hold to prep for the Oscars, we've had the president make the bold claim that America is "better prepared than woefully unprepared" for a terrorist attack or natural disaster (talk about setting the bar low), and a videotape that makes Brownie -- Brownie! -- look like a marvel of competence and efficiency compared to President Bush.

So, Jon, if you and your team can somehow catch lightning in a bottle and find a heretofore undiscovered way to take the Oscar spotlight, make the political points that surely need making, and not have half of America reaching for its collective remote and muttering about Hollywood liberals, by all means go for it.

Otherwise, just put on the tux, be funny, charming, witty... and get the hell out of town -- and back to the Daily Show desk, where you are so desperately needed.

Best of Luck,

Arianna

Follow Arianna Huffington on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ariannahuff