The Daily Show's narrative does not condescend upon the issue itself, but merely adds a comical turn

Squiggly comical eyebrows, frequent shouts of a victorious “boo-ya” and of course, the stinging sarcasm. It's hard to miss these even if you have watched just one episode of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart on Comedy Central, which recently launched in India.

Branding itself a fake news show, its signature comedy is one of irreverence and political satire.

Host Jon Stewart, the bearer of the aforementioned eyebrows, gleefully lampoons politicians and celebrities.

Bush, a target

The Bush administration would have been happier to have him on their side, for each of their blunders was another point in The Daily Show's ratings.

Created by Lizz Winstead and Madeleine Smithberg, the show was started in 1996 and initially hosted by Craig Kilborn.

Stewart, who started hosting the show in 1999, gained popularity during the election bid of George W. Bush's first term. In a section dubbed ‘Indecision', the show captured that particular election's excitement of recount and court proceedings. In future years, this segment would become a permanent feature during elections, parodying the rhetoric of the campaigns.

I was hooked to the show when I saw the episode with an ill-at-ease Nandan Nilekani facing Stewart's good humoured questions.

While Indian mainstream media finds it convenient to gibe at politicians, it doesn't often meddle with the poster boys of the private sector.

Turning the tables

Stewart conducted a ‘Rally to Restore Sanity' at a physical space in Washington in October 2010, spoofing the many rallies other media houses conducted.

Yes, the show's other favourite target is the mainstream U.S. broadcast media. The show mocks at other news channels' reportage with sarcastic and purported “on-site” correspondents who never leave the studio.

A spoof of an on-site reporter grabbing air time by cuddling an animal caught in a hurricane brought to mind insensitive news reports from the tsunami of 2004, followed up by similar reports on every anniversary of the incident.

Criticism on The Daily Show was cited to be a reason for the cancellation of a debate program on none other than CNN.

On-screen feuds often flare up between Stewart and mainstream talk show hosts.

Entitled mockery

As appropriate to a ‘fake news show', Stewart's team is comprised of stand-up and television comedians, who appear on the show bearing important sounding, but satirical titles.

So, ‘senior foreign-looking correspondent' Aasif Mandvi, an Indian-American stand-up comedian, investigates religious paranoia and fanaticism.

‘Senior British person' John Oliver, a comedian from the United Kingdom, assumes an imperial air and scoffs at liberal notions, exposing the absurdity of the white male supremacy through exaggeration.

Victory for free speech

All said, The Daily Show's narrative does not condescend upon the issue itself, but merely adds a comical turn. Humour as a channel for political discourse is something that we in India know about, but that's just about as far as we have gone.

In the light of satire and parody being snubbed at their roots here, The Daily Show's growing influence on viewers is perhaps, one small victory for the free speech bastion.

The Daily Show airs on Comedy Central India on weekdays. Its episodes are available on The Daily Show website, where a searchable archive of older shows is maintained.

Running in its 16th year, the show has won 16 Emmy Awards.


Couch Potato March 9, 2011