by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
The recent interplay between Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert regarding the possibility of a COVID lab leak was a fascinating example of where their recent career choices have taken them. … Stewart showed that part of him is still a real comedian, with the comedian’s eye for the absurd wherever he finds it. Colbert revealed himself to be merely a partisan entertainer whose highest priority (higher than humor or truth) is to make sure his audience never feels like it is taking a justified L.
Stewart was also a partisan entertainer, and did more than his share to make mainstream topical comedy as predictable and stale as right-wing talk radio, but he retired before the audience expectations of total partisan conformity had become entirely crushing. Meanwhile, Colbert forced himself to do night after dreary night of feeble Robert Mueller jokes and it has broken his spirit.
The live audience obviously like Stewart’s material, and gives at most tepid reaction to Colbert’s repeated attempts to rebut Stewart and to throw off Stewart’s comic timing. And above all, Colbert spends the entire segment desperately disassociating himself from Stewart. At one point he cracks that Stewart must be working for Republican Senator Ron Johnson. The message is simple: It doesn’t matter if the stuff you are saying is funny. It doesn’t even matter if the stuff you are saying is true. What matters is you are putting me and my show on the wrong side and that’s a problem.
That’s because Colbert is terrified of his Very Online fanbase. In the wider America, the vast majority either believe in the lab-leak theory or are agnostic on the subject. But for the Very Online Left, the lab-leak theory isn’t about true or false. It’s about ingroup vs. outgroup, and anyone who volunteers that the lab-leak theory might be true is part of the outgroup.