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Obama is a guest as Jon Stewart brings his 'Daily Show' gags to town

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President Barack Obama barely cracked any jokes during an appearance Wednesday on "The Daily Show" despite host Jon Stewart's attempts to draw out the president's humorous side.

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Over the years, "The Daily Show" has proved to be particularly analysis-proof, disinclined as Stewart is to invest any time explaining his act. Nothing ruins a joke more than sentences that start with "But seriously . . ."

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Whenever anyone mistakenly loads too much meaning behind Stewart's satire, he steadfastly maintains that this is all just shtick. It is and it isn't. We all know that. If you call it a movement, the way Fox News's Glenn Beck referred to his own God-and-country, TV-show-inspired rally back in August, you'll merely provoke giggly jokes about bowels.

"The Daily Show's" take on D.C., grandiloquently subtitled "Indecision 2010: When Grizzlies Attack: The Daily Show Midterm Teapartyganza," have relied mainly on the growing contempt for "Washington" (an abstraction that those of us who live here learned to endure eons ago), no different than the virulent anti-government vibes in midterm campaign ads that Stewart so gleefully mocks. This is always great fun and truly an American pastime; Washington exists to be resented.

For added insult, there have been remote-reporter gags from "Daily Show" staff comics that paint the town as a corrupt quagmire. Samantha Bee made fun of the "subway, excuse me, the Metro," which she said was a word for "subway's gay cousin." (G-word jokes? After all these weeks of "It Gets Better" viral videos against bullying and anti-gay slurs?)

Jason Jones keeps popping up in the "wrong" places -- K Street SE instead of the legendary rue d'corruptive influence; looping endlessly around Dupont Circle in search of one of four different Second Streets, on which he hopes to locate the Supreme Court building, cursing a "Frenchified city layout that makes no [bleeping] sense!" Big laughs from the studio audience on that one.

Likewise, a sketch in which Jones, Wyatt Cenac and John Oliver pick up a group of diverse "Daily Show" viewers on a bus ride to D.C., and encourage them to engage in partisan spats. Of course, the sketch hinges on the fact that they seem tolerant of one another's opinions -- interested, even. "Agreeing to disagree is not a television show!" Jones shouts.

Neither have Stewart's other guests this week managed to make much of a television show. Obama economic adviser Austan Goolsbee, who has been a sharp "Daily Show" guest in the past, seemed to lose his way Monday night, committing the miscalculated "Daily Show" error of trying to be funny on his own. The result was two men trying to do the same sketch from different cue cards. Sen. Ted Kaufman (D-Del.) didn't fare much better on Tuesday night, saying "And by the way" as Stewart was offering a handshake and the crowd was applauding a commercial break.

"The Daily Show's" saving grace is its trenchant media criticism in the form of damning evidence from news video vaults, a true art form that the show makes look deceptively easy. Nothing worked better in this week's shows than a video montage Tuesday evening that caught Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) posturing about Washington's systemic failures and outmoded ways again and again -- in clips dating back nearly every year to 1989. Devastatingly funny, and the reason "The Daily Show" still thrives.

As for Stewart himself? Is anyone in Elitistland allowed to say we are slightly tired of him and his shrugs, his mock gasps, his pretend girly-man squeaks of excitement in the promo touting the Obama interview? I was reminded of this by staying tuned for the far superior, far more nuanced, rarely out-of-form "Colbert Report." It would take a heap more typing to explain what's working there.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart

(30 minutes) continues its week in Washington at 11 p.m. Thursday on Comedy Central.


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