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'Daily Show', 'Colbert' Strain To Lampoon Democratic Losses

Jon Stewart (from left) and Stephen Colbert hosted live editions of their programs, <em>The Daily Show</em> and <em>The Colbert Report,</em> on Tuesday.
Comedy Central
Jon Stewart (from left) and Stephen Colbert hosted live editions of their programs, The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, on Tuesday.

Jon Stewart may be the only media figure who started his election coverage Tuesday with an apology.

"I did vote today ... I was being flip and it kind of took off," said Stewart, who had told CNN anchor Christiane Amanpour in an interview earlier Tuesday that he wasn't voting because he "had just moved, and I don't even know where my thing is." The comment sparked loads of stories about how the comedian wasn't voting in an election he had been talking about for months.

"I want to apologize," Stewart added. "Because I think I wasn't clear enough that I was kidding and it sent a message that I didn't think voting was important or that I didn't think it was a big issue. And I do. And I did vote. And I was being flip and I shouldn't have done that. That was stupid."

Yes, it was that kind of night for liberals. Even a left-leaning fake news anchor had to start the night by seeking forgiveness for a screw-up.

Both Stewart's Daily Show and its Comedy Central sibling, Stephen Colbert's Colbert Report, went live Tuesday to talk about the historic wins Republicans piled up in this year's midterm elections.

But the wave of red sweeping over the electoral map seemed to dampen the mood a bit at both shows, where leading Republicans like Sens. Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham had been the target of barbed jokes for quite a while.

"Look, I'm trying to find any way to entertain people who are truly on a ledge tonight," Stewart joked at one point, just before promising to replace the Statue of Liberty's torch and tablet with a Bible and an AK-47 to signal the GOP's success.

The evening seemed to highlight the limits of news-tinged satire on the political scene, as HBO comic Bill Maher's public effort to oust Republican U.S. Rep. John Kline — referred to on his show Real Time as the "flip a district" campaign — also failed.

Kline, whom Maher criticized for being "invisible" while representing a district outside Minneapolis, won his seventh term in office Tuesday despite repeated criticism from the comic, who devoted a website to the effort and even visited the state for a panel discussion on the election.

On Stewart's and Colbert's shows, the reporting of election results almost seemed an afterthought — though the Daily Show had fun with some election projections, picturing McConnell as a cartoon turtle and showing an alligator gobbling up failed Florida gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist, the Republican turned Democrat.

Instead, Stewart poked fun at the influence of money — alumnus Rob Riggle played a stack of cash giddily celebrating the dollar's role in the most expensive midterm election in history — and interviewed Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus.

"Were you surprised that the Democrats' strategy seemed to be curling in a ball and hoping you didn't kick them in the face too hard?" Stewart asked Priebus, setting the tone for the rest of the interview.

Colbert presented his last live election special before leaving Comedy Central to take over David Letterman's Late Show on CBS next year. Many of his jokes centered on the media coverage, lampooning social media-obsessed TV reports and playing multiple instances of Fox News anchors referring to the channel's election data center as its "brain room."

"Just as you suspected, Fox News keeps all their brains in one room," Colbert joked. "And it's not the one with the cameras."

Although his persona on the show is ostensibly a parody of a conservative political commentator, Colbert seemed less like his character than ever, signaling the kind of attitude viewers might see once he moves to CBS and drops the show's conceit forever.

"It's been a good night for Republicans," Colbert said, not really sympathizing with or enjoying the victory. "Some of them are even awake to celebrate it."

Colbert also welcomed conservative pundit turned Obama supporter Andrew Sullivan, who blamed Democrats' massive electoral losses on being "weak-kneed" about supporting the president and party policies.

"You have a president who has an excellent economic record ... [who] enacted universal health care, which is their goal for 40 years," says Sullivan. "And they ran away from that achievement and refuse to talk about it."

Colbert responded by asking, "What can we do to get more Americans to vote? Should we have those 'I voted' stickers deep-fried?"

There were lots of odd events elsewhere in media coverage Tuesday, including a moment when Fox News pundit Brit Hume kept chanting the word "Redskins" as fellow pundit Juan Williams tried to talk about the controversy surrounding the name of Washington's NFL team.

Former Meet the Press host David Gregory joined fellow NBC alumna Katie Couric on Yahoo's election coverage — which was held in a Washington, D.C., bar.

And CNN anchor Anderson Cooper had a novel comeback when a panel responded sluggishly to his question about marijuana legalization just before 1 a.m. Wednesday: "What, are you all stoned, or something?"

The only time Colbert got close to being serious Tuesday was when he wrapped up the show noting it was his eighth and final live election show for Comedy Central in 14 years.

"I'll just end by saying it has been a pleasure and privilege to be welcomed into your homes these last nine years," he said. "So to you and yours and I say a fond ... what's that? I have another month and a half of shows? Well, this was a little too dramatic."

Not dramatic enough to change the tone for TV's leading news satire shows, which worked hard Tuesday to slap a smiling face on a defeat that most likely disappointed many fans in their audiences.

Maybe Colbert just got out while the getting was good.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.