Last night saw Comedy Central's tag team of late-night political commentary, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, return to the airwaves after ten weeks off owing to the writers' strike. Unlike Letterman, who struck a deal to bring his writers back with him, The Daily Show and The Colbert Report were unable to do so — despite, it turns out, trying really hard — so Daily Intel's Chris Rovzar and Vulture's Dan Kois tuned in to see how the hosts did without any of their precious words.
Read all their in-the-moment joy and disgust at Jon Stewart after the jump. (Their live discussion of The Colbert Report is over at Daily Intel.)
Kois: How brutal that Comedy Central's prelude to The Daily Show is a Scrubs rerun.
Rovzar: I was actually just scratching my head over that. Oh, for the days of Crank Yankers, the perfect lead-in.
Rovzar: So wait, what do I need to know about this before it begins? Neither show has writers.
Rovzar: So conventional wisdom is that Colbert will suck more because his is all so heavily written?
Kois: It is hard for me to imagine Colbert staying in character the entire half-hour without the aid of the written word.
Kois: And he doesn't depend on correspondent reports, which apparently are done by non-WGA members.
Kois: On the other hand, Colbert is a trained improviser whereas Stewart isn't a trained anything.
Rovzar: Do you remember on that show he had on MTV, that talk show, when someone grabbed his penis on the air?
Rovzar: I think it was, like, Rebecca Romijn.
Kois: Wow, just barely. IMDb says that was 1993.
Rovzar: I don't know why I remember that.
Kois: That's like remembering Adam Sandler as "that guy from Remote Control."
Rovzar: OH MY GOD!
Rovzar: HE WAS THAT GUY FROM REMOTE CONTROL!
Rovzar: I am so young.
Rovzar: I'm like a newt.
Kois: And I am old as a motherfucker.
Kois: Anyways, here we go!
Rovzar: How appropriate! Jon begins the show by studying his pen. I never noticed before that he uses cheap Bic pens.
Kois: Uh, does Jon Stewart have a strike unibrow?
Rovzar: He DOES have a strike unibrow. And a strike TAN.
Rovzar: It doesn't match his hair at all.
Kois: He claims he's trying to make the strike unibrow "the writers' strike equivalent of the AIDS ribbon."
Rovzar: I know, that's a great line.
Rovzar: I love that we can make fun of AIDS now.
Rovzar: "The LiveStrong bracelet of the writers' strike" just wouldn't have been as funny.
Kois: AIDS brings it up to the Next Level (TM).
Kois: He's starting out with an apologia and a dismissal of his show's title. It's not "The" Daily Show. Now it's "A" Daily Show, With Jon Stewart.
Rovzar: Now he's just screaming Chuck Norris's name repeatedly.
Kois: Time to Chuck Norris video: 2:25.
Rovzar: I am surprised it took that long.
Rovzar: If he doesn't point out Norris's bizarro teeth, I'll be melancholy.
Rovzar: Was that Steven Seagal, inserted into the back of Chris Dodd's concession speech?
Kois: Yup! That's a nice gag THAT SOMEONE WROTE.
Rovzar: Stewart "flashes back" to his Iowa prediction, which is actually just him, today: "The Iowa caucus will go to the black guy and the guy who doesn't believe in evolution. See you in January under uncomfortable circumstances!"
Rovzar: I believe Jon could have written that himself.
Kois: I believe Jon DID write that himself, in violation of the WGA strike rules!
Rovzar: He's actually doing some explaining of the strike.
Rovzar: Oooh, this is falling a bit flat.
Rovzar: He's going to "the Internets" place. Ouch, "a series of tubes."
Kois: Yeah, maybe this crap is his defense against claims that his opener is written.
Kois: "I'm completely making this up on the fly! I just have REALLY REALLY FAST image guys. And REALLY REALLY FAST audio-clip guys. And REALLY REALLY FAST video-clip guys. But don't worry, it still sucks."
Kois: It's no surprise that Stewart is on the side of the writers, but how badly does it undercut his case that he is, Leno-like, scabbing his way through the opening monologue?
Rovzar: I have to say, as a pretty standard Stewart fan who has seen him live a bunch of times, he looks nervous.
Kois: Yeah, he does look nervous.
Rovzar: He should have done like Ellen did and had a bongo recital.
Kois: Or dancing girls like Letterman.
Rovzar: He's not reacting to any of the news of the day. That's the problem.
Rovzar: Dude, he doesn't need the WGA. He needs BLOGGERS. Like US. Who can make jokes about the news of the day in 30 minutes or less.
Kois: He feels forced by circumstance to honestly present his take on the writers' strike, a topic that actually hardly anyone cares about.
Kois: As we have so sadly learned at Vulture in the past weeks.
Rovzar: You think he really has to go on at length about the strike? What is the obligation there?
Kois: I think that he feels guilty about being scabby.
Rovzar: HA! "Oh my God, you got Sean Penn to advocate for your cause! You must have A CAUSE!"
Rovzar: I like that one.
Kois: I think Stewart sincerely wishes he wasn't on the air right now. Unlike Leno, and maybe even Letterman.
Kois: Stewart feels pressured by circumstance (and, likely, his network) to come back on the air before he feels he should. He feels he is betraying his union and his writing staff. And one way to make himself feel even a tiny bit better is to devote a portion of the show to explicating the writers' cause.
Rovzar: You think? Isn't he a producer on the show? And isn't primary season his glory season?
Kois: But I think Stewart cares more about how his colleagues view him than he does about how America views him.
Kois: That is, he would sacrifice popularity among the Daily Show audience (by doing a crap show where he just talks about the strike) for popularity among those he views as his peers (i.e. his writers).
Rovzar: You're really, like, a Stewart believer.
Rovzar: Like, if Jon Stewart gave a speech about how the people of Iowa have spoken, and what they've said is that they want change, you would cry.
Kois: I'm crying RIGHT NOW.
Rovzar: I can see that to be true.
Rovzar: I have a lot of respect for him.
Rovzar: "At heart this really is a math problem. The last time that these shows were off for any amount of time was after September 11. At that time, they were off for about a week. So by my count, the writers' strike is now nine times worse than September 11." That fell FLAT.
Rovzar: But, we learned something today. AIDS jokes = OK. September 11 jokes = not quite ready yet.
Kois: Comedy = tragedy + time, but never before did we know the exact AMOUNT of time. Now we've narrowed it down to between 27 and 6 years.
Rovzar: Wait, it this really a professor of labor relations??
Kois: Ron Seeber, professor at Cornell.
Rovzar: This is the exact wrong strategy.
Kois: It is time to get off the strike, and start talking about the primaries. People are not watching The Daily Show for strike discussion! We want to see Hillary cry, and we want Jon to raise his eyebrow afterward!
Rovzar: YES. And make a joke about Obama's dong.
Kois: "This strike has gotten very acrimonious. I imagine most strikes do."
Rovzar: Ew. This is like that time Stewart creamed all over John Kerry.
Rovzar: He didn't even get a FUNNY professor.
Rovzar: Wait. Wait. Wait. This must be some sort of stunt.
Kois: No, I don't think so. I don't think he's deadpan. I think he's just not funny.
Rovzar: I can't even hear the words that they are saying. Like, it is impossible for this discussion to penetrate my brain.
Rovzar: My roommate just picked up The NEW YORKER and started reading
Rovzar: That's how boring this is.
Kois: That has never happened before in the history of television.
Rovzar: That's why they INVENTED television. So we wouldn't have to read The New Yorker.
Rovzar: Tomorrow is the New Hampshire primary! But there is MORE Ron Seeber AFTER the break?
Rovzar: (Was that a whale barfing?)
Kois: I don't have anything against Ron Seeber. God bless him, his tenure committee is going to be lining up to touch his cheek next year since he appeared on Jon Stewart. But this is awful.
Rovzar: At a certain point, this becomes a fuck-you to Stephen Colbert.
Kois: How so?
Rovzar: I mean, people are going to shut off their TVs. This is a worse lead-in than a rerun of Scrubs!
Rovzar: (Actually, I love Scrubs.)
Kois: That's true!
Kois: (You and Nussbaum, dude.)
Kois: This Daily Show Online ad is Comedy Central's fuck-you to Jon Stewart.
Kois: "We're advertising our Website, for which YOUR writers receive no residuals!"
Rovzar: They're also saying "HEY JON, REMEMBER WHEN YOU WERE FUNNY?"
Rovzar: I can't believe the audience is laughing at Stewart's quips.
Kois: They didn't bring THEIR New Yorkers.
Rovzar: They must have had a striptease with a donkey during the commercial break.
Kois: Interesting. Stewart is complaining that he got his producers and Comedy Central to agree to a side deal with the guild, but the guild turned them down even though what they offered was similar to what the guild granted Letterman.
Kois: That's newsy!
Rovzar: I have to be honest, I can't really pay attention to this. But that's interesting. So shouldn't he be a little mad at the guild?
Kois: I guess he is. Now Stewart's trying to get the professor to agree that the WGA is anti-Semitic.
Rovzar: That was funny.
Rovzar: Ooh, nuance. So he's mad at everybody. Is this like a meta-indictment of the tedium of the whole stalemate situation?
Kois: We'd better hope so. Time for the toss to Colbert …
Rovzar: I like the mock shredding of the script.
Kois: I like Colbert's beard!
Kois: Please let it get caught in the shredder.
Rovzar: It got caught in the shredder!
Rovzar: Ooh, the moment of Zen is just people silently picketing outside the studio.
Kois: That was nice.
Rovzar: Though also meta in its own way. It wasn't just any picket line, it was the people protesting the show that was going on at that moment. His show.
Kois: So that's the episode basically! An uncomfortable monologue and a near-endless interview about the strike.
Rovzar: I have no idea how many people would have sat through it.
Kois: I have to imagine that many, many, many people dozed off and are going to wake up in the middle of Futurama all like "Huh? What?"
Rovzar: It was a self-indictment, in a way.
Kois: It sort of was. He is obviously angry, but I guess in Jon Stewart that manifests itself in self-seriousness and discomfort.
Rovzar: His self-serious side is the one thing that makes him better than Craig Kilborn could ever have been, though.
Rovzar: I like to know he cares.
Kois: Oh God, could you imagine if it was Craig Kilborn?
Kois: There would have been a whole segment about how he had to sell off one of his Trans Ams because of the strike.
Rovzar: He would have really grown a beard, made three strike jokes, and then had Teri Garr on.
Kois: I guess I'll take this over that.
Rovzar: Yeah. It'll make headlines tomorrow, on a tough headline day.
Rovzar: People will talk, even if they didn't watch.
Rovzar: On the other hand, people love Teri Garr.
Kois: It's true.
Now it's time for The Colbert Report!