Former Daily Show Writer Accuses Jon Stewart of Punishing His Writers For Forming A Union

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.

Your Thoughts?

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • Dana Hunter

    Sigh. Another idol with clay feet. I hope his former writers gang up on him and force some behavioral modification, since his current writers likely can’t. Then maybe his former fans (Hi, Jon!) can respect him again.

    How ya holding up, kid? Home stretch!

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      I’m getting desperate! The deadlines come so fast and furious! I have lots of possible stuff to work with but keep deluding myself I’ll have time to squeeze in writing something long form, but it’s not happening!

  • Dana Hunter

    I know your pain, my brother. Well I know it! But you’re doing a fabulous job.

  • http://www.facebook.com/fieldsb brianfields

    This smacks of an individual ex-writer with a grudge. Note he’s not saying “Jon doesn’t pay his writers”, he’s saying “Jon doesn’t use any of his writers stuff because he’s angry with them”.

    That just doesn’t strike me as fitting the personality – It’s a really stupid thing to do if he’s got writers to not use them.

    When the writers went on strike, the show had a COMPLETELY different tone. You could tell he was doing it on his own.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      When the writers went on strike, the show had a COMPLETELY different tone. You could tell he was doing it on his own.

      Actually, that’s not true. I was stunned that nothing seemed at all different during that period.

    • laurentweppe

      This smacks of an individual ex-writer with a grudge. Note he’s not saying “Jon doesn’t pay his writers”, he’s saying “Jon doesn’t use any of his writers stuff because he’s angry with them”.

      On the contrary: there is nothing more hurtful for an artist than being denied the publicizing of their work. That does not mean that Feldman is telling the truth, but if Stewart is as vicious as Feldman claims, then its a technique he would certainly use.

    • Sean Hannity

      Nah, this guy has an agenda. Are we suppose to believe that the aggrieved writers still paid by the Daily Show but none of their work is being used or is it that Stewart managed to blacklist them? Neither sounds credible. Stewart is popular but he’s no Walt Disney.

    • becka212

      I absolutely agree. The show was not nearly as good (sorry Jon) during the strike. Funnily, during the strike I actually preferred Colbert’s show (it didn’t seem different at all to me!) when usually it’s the other way around. I think Jon relies on his writers a lot more heavily than Colbert does. I also recall him acknowledging his writers on the air several times. I might re-evaluate if more people come out and say the same, but until then, I’m with Jon.

  • Hank Fox

    I have a hard time crediting this guy. I’ve seen Jon Stewart help launch several successful careers, among them Tina Fey and Stephen Colbert, and continue in amicable relationships with the people who go off on their own.

    Everybody’s disliked by somebody. Sometimes the people doing the disliking are the ones at fault. This guy has every right to his opinion. Doesn’t mean I have to share it. He might be a complete asshole.

    “Feet of clay”? Gah. Jon Stewart and Rachel Maddow are some of the best voices we’ve got for checking the right wing. Until I get a LOT more evidence, I’ll continue to take them as I see them. Which is: Oh man, I’m glad they exist, and do what they do.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      How did Stewart launch the career of Tina Fey?

      He’s definitely supported Colbert. No doubt about that.

    • plutosdad

      Tina Fey? What?

      I remember when he kept the show going during the strike. As a consumer I was happy. Maybe the writers weren’t so happy.

      OTOH, I can’t find anything else like this anywhere. And Feldman’s credibility goes down (for me) when he starts going on about the 1st commandment near the end.

      Well I suppose we will see in the coming weeks since I’m sure someone will have something to say.

  • http://freethoughtblogs.com/dispatches Ed Brayton

    What Feldman said about Jon Stewart came as a big surprise to me. It’s not something we had talked about before the show, or anything I’d heard him say before, and it really caught me off guard. I can’t vouch for whether it’s all true, of course, because I don’t know any of those people and I’m not there to see it. I can tell you that, within the comedy business, there are few people as respected as David Feldman. He’s the ultimate comic’s comic, one of a handful of guys who may not be a household name but is revered by almost every comedian I know (Rick Overton would also be on that list).

    Brian Fields wrote:

    This smacks of an individual ex-writer with a grudge. Note he’s not saying “Jon doesn’t pay his writers”, he’s saying “Jon doesn’t use any of his writers stuff because he’s angry with them”.

    I think you’d have to know a couple of things to see why this matters. First, legally Stewart could not punish them in almost any other way. Federal law is pretty strict in dealing with retaliation for unionizing. He can’t fire them for it, or cut their pay, or anything like that. Second, the nature of comedy writing for TV is that it A) is very competitive (you really push for your jokes and ideas to be used rather than someone else’s), and B) requires, as Feldman and Overton once pointed out in a dual interview, that you sacrifice your children. By that they meant that you have these jokes and ideas that you love, that you work so hard to develop, and then you have to give them away and watch someone else do them, sometimes having them changed along the way, and some people just can’t do that. Overton said you have to have two equal tracks of intensity and detachment — intensity to work really hard on making the bits perfect, then you have to detach from them when they’re on the screen and move on and do it all over again with the next one. That’s probably hard to understand for someone who hasn’t done comedy, the way you craft and work and are attached to what you do. So that really is a rather nasty way to punish someone in that business.

    plutosdad wrote:

    And Feldman’s credibility goes down (for me) when he starts going on about the 1st commandment near the end.

    That’s really quite silly. Feldman is an atheist. He’s part of Paul Provenza’s Satiristas group that performs at TAM. He’s just making an obvious cultural reference and it was an appropriate one, trying to make the point about putting people up on a pedestal.

    None of this is to say that I know what Feldman said is accurate. I don’t. But neither does anyone else who hasn’t actually worked there and seen what goes on. And you have to remember that just because you see someone on TV doesn’t mean you know them. What you see is a carefully crafted image that could easily hide a wretched person. I have a friend who opened for Sting on one of his tours and put out three CDs for his record company and he has told me all kinds of things that confirmed Sting’s reputation for being a complete megalomaniac. That doesn’t mean he’s not a brilliant songwriter, nor does it make me less of a fan of his music. And this, if it’s all true, doesn’t make Jon Stewart less funny or brilliant. I still love the Daily Show and I thought Stewart was incredibly funny long before he got that show, before he ever had writers. People can be brilliant and all kinds of bad things all at the same time.

    • laurentweppe

      Second, the nature of comedy writing for TV is that [...] that you sacrifice your children

      Abraham: forefather of Jews, Christians, Muslims… and comedy writers

  • http://www.facebook.com/sabreean breaplum

    Um, he’s a television writer, he already belongs to a union, or at least he should. It’s called the Writers Guild of America.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/dispatches Ed Brayton

      Reading is fundamental.

  • http://www.facebook.com/josiah.mannion josiahmannion

    I listened to that episode just a few days ago, I think. Fantastic. Much as I love the work that Stewart does on The Daily Show, I also think it’s great that there’s at least some people at there willing to call him on his BS, too.

  • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

    Jon’s first joke back tonight was a joke that someone had a “diseased mind”. Thought immediately of Feldman’s phrase “diseased politics”.

  • DJ Carlin

    Everything Feldman say is true. I wrote for the Daily Show for 5 years. Before the show went union, Stewart routinely warned the writers against talking to the union. And the union was afraid to confront him because they didn’t want him badmouthing them on the show. The reason you don’t have scores of writers (and other employees) coming out with similar stories is they fear getting sued and blacklisted (as per the employment contract). So grow up idolizers, and start idolizing the people who created the damn show to begin with two years before a resentful and snide Stewart took control: the writers.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Thanks for weighing in DJ Carlin.

      For what it’s worth, in assessing DJ Carlin’s identity, the IP is in Los Angelas and all afternoon and night today this post has been being read by IPs from all around California, which made me wonder if it was getting the attention of the TV/film community. Of course this is not conclusive proof or anything, just a tiny piece of evidence.

    • John Doh

      I’m a former Daily Show writer, and David Feldman speaks the truth. Dave’s a little too kind, if you ask me. Jon Stewart is an abusive, hateful human being. He is proof that just because someone shares your politics doesn’t make him a good person or a good boss. Sorry, fellow liberals, but that’s how it is.

  • Joaquin Public

    Jon Stewart raped my cat. During the entire assault, he kept doing his Trump impression.

  • http://community.babycenter.com/journal/nicolaashend716/7031944/locating_the_ideal_conference_venue_in_london_in_very_easy Toney Larkan

    Another great article.

  • Kyle

    Is this satire that’s so well-done that you can’t tell? The only truth is that Dennis Miller is actually a really funny, intelligent guy. Who sold his soul to the Republican Party. Stewart used to be funny, but now he only cares about politics. Bill Maher, well, sadly, I used to like him… and watch clips of him occasionally… but he’s tiresome.

    So I watched all of them, and thought each was hilarious and intelligent at diff points of my life and diff points of their tactic to bludgeon you with political propaganda until you agree. Or you’re dumb if you don’t agree with whatever one believes but didn’t believe 8 years ago. Makes it hard to be a liberal Libertarian. Miller was a lot like Maher on HBO from 1994 to 2002. I wonder what Maher will do when they get rid of him.

  • Bruce

    Seth Mcfarlane gave a very toned down answer on Piers Morgan when asked about Stewart chewing him out for the joke on family guy that was about the whole union thing and Stewart’s choices to air his show during that period. Mcfarlane said his joke was over the top but felt he was still hypocritical, Stewart called him up and blasted him in an hour long phone call. I still cant find the clip from family guy but would like to know what one it is.

    • Taco

      No one knows if that clip ever aired, or if it was in-side joke in one of the family guy episodes during the strike. I looked too and couldn’t find anything. Either it was cut (unlikely since someone would have seen it), but it was probably an inside-joke that only Stewart and MacFarlane would have got.

  • Ser

    I’m just in a discussion about this elsewhere and seeing as how people still react to this, I decided to post here as well:

    1. The Daily Show went union August 2006:
    http://www.mediabistro.com/fishbowlny/daily-show-negotiates-writers-guild-contract_b3100

    From the Guilt statement: “I would also like to thank Jon Stewart who stood by his writers and insisted they be properly compensated and treated fairly. We could not be happier to welcome The Daily Show writers into our union.” (Chris Albers, president of the Writers Guild of America, East)

    2. Also in the Guilt releasse: “The agreement was negotiated by a committee comprised of Daily Show writers Rich Blomquist, Steve Bodow, Tim Carvell, Jason Reich and Jason Ross,”

    How so being punished? Rich Blomquist stayed on until end 2012, Steve Bodow was head writer and is now co-executive producer, Tim Carvell is now head writer and Jason Ross is still on the show, he also is one of the writers of Earth, the book. Does that look like punishment to anyone?
    Jason Reich left in 2007, yes, just before the writers strike, but seeing how well the other negotiators did on the show, I can’t really believe he would have been singled out for being on the negotiation committee.

    3. This I have from David Feldman’s IMDb page, because I couldn’t find it anywhere else, but Feldman worked for Bill Maher in 2006 and 2007, he wasn’t on Bill Maher in 2008 but that’s not ‘there right after they signed with the Writer’s Guild’. So was it a brief try-out in 2006 which didn’t work out? Or did he work two shows for a time, one in LA and one in New York?

    My conclusion: it’s a grudge. As for the 2 reactions from those who say they wrote on the show they weight in anonymously, so there’s no way to know how to weight that in.

  • Ser

    Hmmmm, didn’t I put up some things here once that I think raises questions about this? I thought it was here and if so, very dissapointing to see it gone. What I wondered about was this:

    1. The Daily Show went union August 2006:
    http://www.mediabistro.com/fishbowlny/daily-show-negotiates-writers-guild-contract_b3100

    In the Guilt statement: “I would also like to thank Jon Stewart who stood by his
    writers and insisted they be properly compensated and treated fairly. We could
    not be happier to welcome The Daily Show writers into our union.” (Chris
    Albers, president of the Writers Guild of America, East)

    2. Also in the Guilt release: “The agreement was negotiated by a committee comprised of Daily Show writers Rich Blomquist, Steve Bodow, Tim Carvell, Jason Reich and Jason Ross,”

    Rich Blomquist stayed on until end 2012, Steve Bodow was head writer and is now co-executive producer, Tim Carvell is now head writer and Jason Ross is still on the show, he also is one of the writers of Earth, the book. Would that be so if they were punished for this?

    Jason Reich left in 2007, yes, just before the writers strike, but seeing how well the other negotiators did on the show, I can’t really believe he would have been singled out for being on the negotiation committee.

    3. This I have from David Feldman’s IMDb page, because I couldn’t find where he worked in what time anywhere else, but there it says Feldman worked for Bill Maher in 2006 and 2007, he wasn’t on Bill Maher in 2008, but that’s not ‘there right after they signed with the Writer’s Guild’. So was it a brief try-out in 2006 which didn’t work out? Or did he work two shows for a time, one in LA and one in New York?

  • monkeyhouse

    Jon Stewart’s brother is very big at Goldman Sachs.

  • Sean Hannity

    This is suppose to be news to anyone? A disgruntled hack calling Jon Stewart on the carpet for getting mad when his union writers turning the place into a union shop in order to get ‘more’? Are we to believe that the writers were not in the guild from day one? And that Stewart’s ‘jokes’ aren’t well crafted? Does the guy actually tell jokes? I don’t think that’s the way his show works.


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