Comedian and TV host Jon Stewart won the 2022 Mark Twain Prize for American Humor from the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Sunday.
Stewart, the 59-year-old stand-up comic who rose to national prominence as the host of “The Daily Show” from 1999 to 2015, was the 23rd person to receive the award, which “recognizes individuals who have had an impact on American society in ways similar to the distinguished 19th-century novelist and essayist Samuel Clemens, best known as Mark Twain.” The award was presented to Stewart at a gala event in Washington, D.C., on Sunday, which will be broadcast on PBS stations in June.
Tributes to Stewart were given by several comedians and former prize winners, including former “Daily Show” correspondents Samantha Bee, Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert and John Oliver, stand-up comedian and 2019 Mark Twain Prize winner Dave Chappelle, and rock star Bruce Springsteen, who also performed an acoustic version of his hit “Born to Run” at the ceremony. A number of other high-profile guests were also present, including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, and White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, the Associated Press reported.
During his acceptance speech, Stewart joked that Hollywood and Washington, D.C., have a number of similarities. “Washington is for people who like the ego and arrogance of L.A. but who think that that city is too well-designed,” Stewart said, via the Hollywood Reporter. He changed his tone later in the speech, saying that the future of comedy is uncertain. “There’s a lot of talk right now about what’s going to happen in comedy.” Stewart said. But the greatest threat to comedy was not “the fragility of audiences, it’s the leaders,” he continued. “It’s not the Fresh Prince, it’s the crown prince.”
“Comedy is the bellwether, we’re the banana peel in the coal mine,” Stewart continued. “When a society feels under threat, comedians are who gets sent away first.” He then said that “Authoritarianism is the threat to art, theater, poetry. … What we have is fragile and precious, and the way to guard against it isn’t to change how audiences think, but to change how leaders lead.”
While Stewart celebrates his accolade after years of success, his latest project is reportedly not finding any. According to a report from Bloomberg, via The Daily Wire, Stewart’s new show, “The Problem with Jon Stewart,” has experienced a serious decline in viewership since its premiere in September and is trailing behind its competitors on broadcast and cable TV. The series premiere garnered 180,000 views in the first week, according to measurement firm Samba TV. That viewership number plummeted all the way down to 40,000 by the show’s fifth episode, which aired in March. By comparison, one episode of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver,” which also aired in March pulled in 844,000 viewers. Bloomberg gave several reasons for the show’s poor ratings: the changing nature of entertainment consumption in the age of streaming; the difficulty in making timely and topical jokes on a show that is recorded well in advance; and the sporadic schedule, in which the show premiered new episodes every two weeks at first, but then went on a four-month hiatus.
Apple also defended Stewart and his audience. “We are thrilled that ‘The Problem with Jon Stewart’ has resonated with viewers all over the world,” head of unscripted shows and documentaries at Apple+ Molly Thompson said. “The series has sparked complex conversations about critical issues, and we’re proud to team with Jon for season two and beyond.”