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Jon Stewart and Robert Smigel Craft a Comedy Benefit at a Polarized Moment
November 14, 2017
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Across their comedy careers, Jon Stewart and Robert Smigel have taken wildly different approaches to topical humor. Mr. Stewart, as the host of “The Daily Show,” honed a pointed, partisan perspective that rooted out hypocrisy in current events. Mr. Smigel has developed a gleefully unmannered voice that he’s used to send up politics and pop culture on shows like “Saturday Night Live” and as his trash-talking puppet creation, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog.
The two friends recently spoke about their views of the current political moment as they prepare for their annual comedy concert, “Night of Too Many Stars: America Unites For Autism Programs,” to benefit Next for Autism, which creates and supports school programs and services for people with autism. This year’s event will be held on Saturday at the Theater at Madison Square Garden and broadcast live on HBO, with a lineup that includes Chris Rock, Stephen Colbert, Adam Sandler, Abbi Jacobson and Hasan Minhaj.

This interview occurred before The New York Times published a report on the sexual misconduct of Louis C.K., who was scheduled to perform at the benefit. HBO has since announced that he has been dropped from the lineup. In a statement provided after the interview, Mr. Stewart and Mr. Smigel said: “It’s obviously very upsetting, and we hope the victims are finding some solace. We’re thankful that the culture’s finally changing and allowing them to feel safe enough to speak out.”
The show comes at a challenging moment for comedy, which is having a hard time preserving an inclusive, big-tent spirit when performers feel compelled to express their personal politics in their work. Mr. Stewart and Mr. Smigel got together recently to talk about “Night of Too Many Stars” and how comedy has been affected by internet culture and polarization. These are edited excerpts from that conversation.
When did you two first meet?

JON STEWART Hebrew school.

ROBERT SMIGEL Summer camp. We were in “Godspell” together. I think I met you at an “S.N.L.” party.

STEWART Those were always the parties that you’d walk outside and go, it’s light again.

SMIGEL The first benefit my wife, Michelle, and I did for NBC was in 2003. Everybody who does the show, they’re happy to help and I’m very grateful. Jon was really curious, and when I told him why this exists, it was because my son Daniel couldn’t get into any kind of school that could help him at that age.

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