Maher vs. Stewart

Published: May 3, 2010

By Jim Lichtman
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HBO and Comedy Central are missing a Golden Opportunity.

Rather than pair boxing champ Floyd Mayweather against… whoever’s left, they should match political, social satirist Jon Stewart against social, political satirist-commentator Bill Maher.

Billed as The Grumble in the Jungle (hey, it’s marketing), it just might score major pay-per-view dollars.

Let’s look at the stats –

Bill Maher / Jon Stewart

Maher ranks 38th on Comedy Central’s list of “100 Greatest Stand-Ups of All Time,” Stewart is 41 (ooh, close Jon).

Stewart co-authored, “America (the book): A Citizen’s Guide to Democracy Inaction.”

Maher (single-handedly, mind you) authored the seminal work: “When you ride ALONE, you ride with bin Laden: What the government should be telling us to help fight the war on terrorism.”  Just in word count, alone, Maher wins.

Stewart hosted the 78th and 80th Academy Awards. Maher… well, he was busy both nights.

Stewart’s Daily Show has been nominated for a number of news and journalism awards.

Maher… I think New Rules! was nominated for a Razzi, but lost out to “The Kardashians.”

On the issues –

Maher’s wheelhouse is politicians, greed, gay marriage, the media, and religion.  In fact, his recent documentary, Religulous provided Maher the perfect forum to rant about any and all faiths, doctrines, extremists and conservatives alike. Maher on Scientology: “You, like all religious people, have a neurological disorder. And the only reason why people think it’s sane is because so many other people believe the same thing. It’s sanity by consensus.”

Stewart’s specialty is chastising the media networks – CNN, MSNBC, and his new favorite, FOX News. However, unlike the acerbic Maher, Stewart’s affable nature allows him to draw out celebrity guests like agitated former CNN host Lou Dobbs into sharing details of his on-air departure. “Jon Klein, the president of CNN told me, point-blank,” Dobbs said, “that the network was going to move away from advocacy journalism, that I practice and move toward something called middle-of-the-road journalism.”

Stewart’s response, “Are you sure it wasn’t adult-contemporary journalism?”

When Representative John Dingell shared the storied history of his trusty wooden gavel, Stewart grabs the mallet, has trouble cracking walnuts saying, “Damn big government!”

What I like about both critics is their unique way of holding the mirror up to our nature; a nature that is both virtuous and contemptible.

And the lessons we come away with are valuable: 1) It’s okay to question authority, especially when it’s done in a smart-clever way that makes a point; 2) In looking for answers to big issues, sometimes we must start by tearing down the walls of hypocrisy and bullsh*t; and 3) When we take ourselves too seriously, Jon and Bill are always ready to puncture our pomposity.

You don’t have to agree with Stewart or Maher, but they do make you think about the things we believe in. In that regard, both act as a contemporary Socrates, challenging the status quo, searching for truth behind the façade of the big and powerful.

If we’re ever going to solve the issues that challenge the courage of our convictions, we all need to do a lot more critical thinking.


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