Monday, January 28, 2008

Warming the crowd with racism

Six months ago, I applied for seats for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

Little did I know that the writer's strike would leave Stewart a little less brilliant than he appears when he has a full team (it's still hard to imagine he writes the entire show himself). But even he is willing to admit that it's not at the level of the old show, and has acknowledged it by temporarily changing the name of his show to A Daily Show.

The WGA strikers were picketing, and a few of the writers handed out leaflets suggesting ways in which A Daily Show audience members could help toward a solution to the strike, including phone numbers for Viacom execs. Surprisingly, the writers did not urge the waiting audience members not to attend the show.

Inside, audience members were required to pass through a metal detector and to relinquish sharp objects.

After waiting in our seats for about a half hour. Paul Mercurio, an obnoxious stand up comic, and former writer for Stewart emerged from the wings to "warm up" the crowd. Aside for some fascist calisthenics designed to raise the energy level of the audience, in which we were urged to cheer, shout and chant, Mercurio offered little in the way of real humor.

He set about insulting audience members. He called one middle-aged female attendee a slut because she admitted to enjoying a cocktail. Then he settled on one of the few African Americans in the audience.

"Hey man, you look cool," he said to a young African American man. Then he asked of the young, white woman sitting next to the man, "Is she your girlfriend?" The man said, "Never saw her before." When he found out that the young woman was from Britain, he suggested that the man show her New York.

"Hey, don't rape her," Mercurio warned. Then to the woman, "Watch out, he's going to kidnap you."

The crowd wasn't laughing nearly as heartily as when Mercurio poked fun at some frat boys in the first row.

The racist and sexist humor should have driven me from the room, and I feel a bit guilty that I stayed for the show. But at the very least, Stewart ought to be aware that his warm-up act is appealing to the most base instincts of an audience that ought to know better.

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