Before you’ve cleared the introduction of Lisa Rogak’s look at Jon Stewart, comedian, film director, and leader of The Daily Show, you’ve already seen the variety that makes him great. As a self-proclaimed court jester, he provides laughs, but as a critic, he is comedic from the position of “feeling displaced from society,” as an outsider; as evaluated by his friends and admirers, he’s maintainer of an “internal barometer of right and wrong” and “the funniest man in America.” The Angry Optimist: The Life And Times of Jon Stewart (out tomorrow) is the funny and investigative look at the man, the myth, the legend, that you’ve been looking for.
In a way, Stewart (born Jonathan Leibowitz) is a funny rabbi: he recognizes that the way he sees the world acknowledges that it is not right but that we are to work to improve it, and if possible, those lessons should take normal life with a twist, inviting people in to laugh and to nod… only to learn how they should change. Stewart says in the Angry Optimist that “I do believe in God, I just don’t think he’s still looking out for us”; he thinks that religions provide people with “comfort and solace,” but fall flat when they imply that values/morals can only be found through religion. It’s these dichotomies, and the desire to sort through them, that make Stewart the comedian, orator, and man he is.
Rogak’s book explores Stewart’s early years as a schoolboy and then as a comedian breaking into the business. From the Jon Stewart Show to The Daily Show, there are quips and anecdotes about hits and near misses, as well as the brushes with other comedians, politicians, and newsmakers of renown. With a fair amount of direct insight from others who know Stewart, Rogak has woven a narrative that proves to be as insightful, poignant, and humorous as an episode of Stewart’s comedy can be.
Readers will enjoy the story of Stewart’s proposal to his wife, Tracey, the interactions with Stephen Colbert, the impact of Indecision 2000, his response to 9/11, his ‘losses’ to Conan O’Brien and Jimmy Kimmel, his response to Hugh Grant. This is the book that every Stewart fan has always wanted; this is a real memoir, and a gift of hope to those wanting to tell jokes that matter.
Rogak’s book is easy to read but not for a lack of research and information. It’s just that when you’re writing about a man who’s take on life finds humor and meaning in the little things as well as the big ones, it keeps you engrossed and rolling along, wondering what will happen next.