The TV Watch: Access and the Plight of the Political Comedian

By ALESSANDRA STANLEY

Arts Beat/The New York Times

The country long ago stopped wondering whether a president demeans his office by appearing on a late night comedy show. The more immediate question posed by President Obama’s appearance on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” on Wednesday is whether a political satirist loses credibility when hobnobbing with a sitting president.

When Mr. Obama said, “Jon, I don’t want to lump you in with a lot of other pundits,” Mr. Stewart smirked. Yet it wasn’t an outlandish remark, it was a pointed one. At that moment, asking about the inadequacies of health care reform across a desk on a stage set in Washington, Mr. Stewart looked and sounded a lot like a lot of other pundits, somewhere between Diane Sawyer and Jay Leno, with perhaps a touch of Joy Behar of “The View.”

Mr. Stewart after all, built his popularity and stature by wittily skewering politicians and journalists of all stripes, without fear, favor or deference. And despite all the adulation and numbingly solemn accolades (New York magazine recently anointed the past 10 years “The Jon Stewart Decade” ) Mr. Stewart has managed to maintain his mock anchorman’s seditious mien. Though he can sometimes turn righteous on other people’s shows (as he did on “Crossfire” in 2004), on his own Mr. Stewart is playful, self-mocking and merciless.

He did manage to needle Mr. Obama a little, teasingly retorting, “And I don’t mean to lump you in with other presidents.” He even called the president “dude” after the president inadvertently echoed a famous George W. Bush gaffe by saying that his economic adviser, Lawrence H. Summers, had done “a heck of a job.” Mr. Obama winced ruefully as the audience laughed at his wording and Mr. Stewart said, “You don’t want to use that phrase, dude.”

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