Stewart and Colbert Return Without the Prompter

| Tue Jan. 8, 2008 4:59 PM EST

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As the writers' strike continues, Comedy Central stalwarts Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert's returns to the screen without their scribes last night were highly anticipated. Would they be able to talk, or would they just stare wide-eyed at the screen and stammer helplessly for 30 minutes? Well, both shows were entertaining (if slightly off) and definitely strike-focused, which in the current moment of political frenzy seemed kind of weird.

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Stewart kicked off his show sporting a "strike unibrow" and proceeded to give a bitterly sarcastic rundown of the digital revenue the strikers are fighting for, saying the $1.99 fee for The Daily Show on iTunes isn't for content, it's for "shipping and handling." There were some cute bits, like the on-screen caption "space reserved for clever pun," but one wonders how much was, you know, written. Stewart was clearly furious over the situation and seemed to mock the very idea that he could be prevented from combining words with other words: a deliberate taunting of the Guild?

Colbert's ironic shtick ("unions are destroying America!") is probably easier to pull off under the circumstances, and as such was, in fact, a less-ambiguous stand than Stewart's, but the show's usual spiraling, complex word-play was absent last night. Colbert even had the cameras point at each other to prove there was nothing on the TelePrompters: wow, for real? But the Report relied heavily on clips from older shows, and both he and Stewart used the same joke about their writers playing "Guitar Hero." That's actually something I've often wondered about: how do they coordinate their scripts so they don't end up doing the same bits? Guess that's the writers' job. Anyway, the New York Times was kind of harsh, calling Stewart's show a "jarring display of solipsism" and lamenting the lack of attention to the issues of the day, saying many young people "rely on his show… as their chief source of news." That's a theory I hear all the time but I have yet to see proven by anything except a random poll showing college kids are likely to check off Stewart's name on a survey. Clearly people are getting news other places too; otherwise how else would they get the jokes? If the lack of campaign mockery on the Daily Show adversely affect youth participation in the New Hampshire primary, as the Times seemed to suggest, then we've got bigger problems than just a strike.

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