Ed Brayton’s Culture War Radio show last week was fascinating for both of its two hours. In the first hour he talked to comedian David Feldman. The most interesting section to me was where Feldman compared the comedy and politics of Dennis Miller, Bill Maher, and Jon Stewart (each of whom he has written for). His discussion of Stewart centered on scathing accusations that he punishes his writers by not using their stuff as retaliation after they formed a union against his wishes. Below I have typed up a transcript of this portion of the interview, which starts with his discussion of Miller and Maher and then segues into a rant against Stewart:
David Feldman: I love Dennis. He’s the abusive brother I never had. I think he’s one of the funniest people in the world. His politics are diseased. You know, he is a great man [but] his politics are diseased, they’re sick. And yes he does believe it. I think he allows his audience–I think the audience, the roar of the right wing, the lure of the Republican baubles. You know, “If you come and play with us, follow the party line, and say the things you have to say, riches will follow.” And I think he found that very easy to go down that road. It’s shameful because he’s brilliant. He’s probably—you know, I’ve worked for three powerhouses in political comedy: Jon Stewart, Bill Maher, and Dennis Miller. And of all the guys I’ve worked for Dennis is the funniest, the sharpest, the smartest, the wisest… For some reason, his politics are diseased. That’s his one flaw.
And I, you know, like, Bill Maher is very brave politically. And if you ask me who I respect the most, it would be Bill Maher because I think he is willing to lose everything for what he believes. Comedically he is not as brave as Dennis. Dennis will do jokes and they’re comedically right, they’re mathematically right, and the audience be damned. But he knows what’s funny. And if this joke is funny, he’s gonna do the joke. And working for him gave me a lot of courage to be right comedically. He’s wrong politically. And Bill Maher…I love Bill Maher, I really do. [But] I don’t think he’s as brave comedically. He’s down the middle with the jokes. He’s not trying to lose the audience with his comedy. He’s just trying to lose them with his politics.
Jon Stewart on the other hand, who I worked for on The Daily Show, is in my opinion, very manipulative. He’s more of a crowd pleaser and gives the illusion of taking chances. But he’s an impressionist and he’s trying to, uh…Well, I don’t want to talk about Jon Stewart because I could, you know, it’s like going after Christ. And this is a guy who—I’m a staunch member of the Writer’s Guild of America and Jon Stewart fought his writers when they wanted to go union. They went union and [he] has been punishing them ever since, so the reason, you know, if you watch the Jon Stewart show, he doesn’t really do well-crafted jokes. He’ll throw a couple in, but it’s mostly mugging and shouting. He’s funny, but he’s punishing his writers. He doesn’t use his writers’ stuff because he’s mad at them for going union. And when I was there, I came in there right after they signed with the Writer’s Guild and many of his writers wanted to work with me because they had never gotten their stuff on the show. So he’s turned them all into sinecures, you know, people who have titles and Emmy’s and they work all day, then he doesn’t uses their stuff.
It’s kind of [like] what Walt Disney did to the animators who went union on him. Walt Disney called in a guy named Art Babbitt who was a very rich artist with the Disney Corporation who felt that his animators should be union, and Art Babbitt paid a price with Disney. Eventually, he was one of, they called him the wise man of Disney and there was an animator’s strike that Art Babbitt orchestrated. And he didn’t need to, he was rich! And he still felt his employees at Disney deserved a union, Walt Disney felt they didn’t. So they got their union, Walt Disney called Art Babbitt into his office and said, “Congratulations, you got your union, let me see your drawings, your cels” and Disney took these beautiful cels that Art Babbitt had worked on all day and tore them in front of Art Babbitt and said, “you’ve got your union, you’ll never see your work on the screen again.”
And my experience with Jon Stewart is that’s exactly what he has done to his writers. He’s, you know, a very anti-union guy. He gives the illusion of being a liberal. But then if you look at that big rally he held in Washington, DC, in 2010; boy did he miss the boat on Occupy Wall Street, didn’t he? You know, a year later, what was the real message that America needed to hear? That message was about the wealthy 1% and the stranglehold they have on our lives. Instead, Jon Stewart held this big rally a year before in Washington, DC telling his followers to calm down. That’s who he is, you know? And he’s…so he’s a bad guy, Jon Stewart.
Ed Brayton: Well that’s interesting, that’s nothing I’ve ever heard before.
David Feldman: You won’t hear that because his going union was very difficult for the Writer’s Guild and unions are weak right now. There is not a single writer who ever worked for Jon Stewart who will tell you that he’s a good man. Everybody who has ever written for Jon Stewart will tell you that he hates his writers, and he’s abusive, and is anti-union. But nobody has the courage to take on Satan in Christ’s clothes. I’m joking about his being Satan but he is anti-union. And the head of the Writer’s Guild out here told me that during the strike, when Jon was working as a writer, doing shows, and being his own scab, the head of the Writer’s Guild told me in his whole history he had never been talked to as abusively as he was by Jon Stewart. But nobody’s going to go after Jon Stewart. Nobody’s going to tell the truth about what a bad guy Jon Stewart is because for some reason he’s got angel’s wings. You know—he is funny, the show’s great, but he is not a supporter of unions.
Ed Brayton: Well, if nobody’s going to say it, you just did! So, so, uh, I’m amazed with all the people I know in the comedy business that nobody’s ever said that to me before, so I’m glad to have it [be] aired.
David Feldman: Yeah, you know, I could go on about his reading the e-mails of his writers, stuff like that. People need to know the truth. You know the First Commandment, the First Commandment is “thou shalt not worship false idols”. It is wrong to worship false idols. And in comedy and the New York news media, they have decided that Jon Stewart is an idol, an icon. And he’s not.
The audio is here. I transcribed the interview from 29:23-37:45.
Listen to the whole first hour of the show if you love the art of comedy and thinking about the great comedians. It’s great stuff.