Jon Stewart Gets His Props, Even Without Them

Monday, September 18, 2006

The Big Question hung in the buzzing air at Merriweather Post Pavilion: Does "Daily Show" host Jon Stewart need quick-witted interviews, pun-happy graphics and "green-screened" correspondents to really wow a crowd? That is, does the "Daily Show" comic require the stage props and video blunders of his desk job to be as winningly, bracingly funny?

The Big Answer, to quote Jon Stewart as Fake Newsman: "Ehhh . . . notsomuch."

Stewart -- who received generally fair to good reviews for his Oscar-hosting gig this year -- was better than good during Saturday night's standup show, at which the only real props were, well, none.

The Emmy-winning comedian (wearing a long-sleeve T-shirt and khakis as opposed to his usual Fake Newsman Suit) was in complete, relaxed control, brimming with charisma as he expertly careened from politics to race relations to religion to gay marriage to, well, sexual relations with a pinata.

Stewart was perhaps at his best when skewering both sides of the political aisle, at which point -- as the comic urged both sides to just "be reasonable!" -- the event felt like one big ideological love-in. And when the William and Mary grad quickly slid into his impersonations of Bush and Cheney (the latter evoking the "Batman" villain the Penguin), "Daily Show" die-hards -- like music concertgoers hearing the first few bars or beats of a song -- erupted with gleeful recognition. Such shorthand impressions, in fact, added a fertile element mostly missing from the strong D.C. area standup concerts this year by fellow Comedy Central veterans Dave Chappelle, Lewis Black and Stephen Colbert.

Stewart as Standup Rock Star did weave some bits that, topically, felt like stale chestnuts from his own back catalogue, but he delivered them so deftly that the crowd embraced them like comedic "Free Birds." Particularly effective were his takes on the Million Man March, battling his Mac computer, and our collective back-in-the-day Y2K apprehension. And he polished off the set with tried-and-true, "Far Side"-esque pet humor (which veered between self-deprecation and his bowel-addled dog's, uh, self-defecation).

When Stewart wrapped up the love fest by thanking the packed crowd at length, somehow it felt like genuine, heartfelt mutual admiration. Our love was requited. For thousands of Stewart fans, now that was our "Moment of Zen."

-- Michael Cavna

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