SAN FRANCISCO, California — “This must be exciting for you to see live, Jon Stewart’s grandfather,” Jon Stewart joked a little after 9 p.m. PST Sunday night after walking on stage at Clusterfest to the strains of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run.”
During a Q&A session earlier in the day, the former Daily Show host practically begged the audience to “lower your expectations” for his big return to stand-up comedy. After joking that he was planning to “finish” Donald Trump once and for all with his comedy, Stewart clarified that he thinks voters, not comedians, should be the ones to ultimately oust Trump from office.
But all of that being said, Stewart spent a large portion of his set “eviscerating” the president, so to speak, to the delight of a crowd that desperately wanted him to “slay the dragon” that is Donald Trump.
As he’s done in previous stand-up outings, Stewart told the story of his legendary 2013 Twitter war with Trump, or as he renamed him at the time, “Fuckface von Clownstick.” But this time he used the tale as a way to vindicate his former colleague Samantha Bee, who recently drew the ire of the president when she called his daughter a “feckless cunt.”
“I’m going to tell you something about Sam Bee, because I’ve known her for a very long time,” Stewart said. “You could not find a kinder, smarter, more lovely individual than Samantha Bee. Trust me, if she called someone a cunt...” he added, making a face that finished the sentiment for him.
From there, Stewart spent several minutes recounting his bizarrely anti-Semitic back and forth with the future president on Twitter five years ago that ended with Trump calling him a “pussy.”
“Now, I may be wrong here, but isn’t a ‘feckless cunt,’ in Roget’s Thesaurus, a pussy?” he asked. “So Donald Trump is complaining that Samantha Bee called his daughter the name that he called me.” Stewart added, “I expect my apology in the morning, Donald Trump.”
After comparing Trump to an incurable virus, Stewart warned Democrats against relying on the Mueller investigation or any other scandal to force Trump out of office before his first term is up. “In the same way that Donald Trump doesn’t really care about the word ‘cunt,’ let’s be honest with ourselves,” he said. “We don’t really give a fuck about Russia.”
If the Russians had somehow helped Hillary Clinton and it had prevented Trump from being elected in the first place, Stewart said Democrats would have tried their best to look the other way. “But now we’ve got to act like it’s super important,” he said, because we think it could end his presidency. “Fuck impeaching the guy, fuck any of that stuff,” he added. “Beat him, in an election, with ideas.”
Over the course of his 77-minute set, Stewart also expanded on some existing material about the neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville and tried out some newer jokes about the #MeToo movement and men who are complaining that “you can’t even smile” at women anymore. “When you’re smiling, where is your penis?” he asked in response.
With his black T-shirt, jeans and unique insights into human behavior, Stewart at times seemed to be channeling his old friend Louis C.K., one of many prominent men who have disappeared from the public eye after admitting to years of sexual misconduct. Stewart used the reckoning against men like C.K. as a way to talk about the far less serious backlash he faced in 2010 when Jezebel published an article accusing him of running The Daily Show as a “boys’ club where women’s contributions are often ignored and dismissed.”
Stewart admitted that his first instinct was to deny that he could possibly have a “sexist” bone in his body and say “fuck you” to anyone who would claim otherwise. “They called me on my shit, and it felt bad, but it was right,” he said. Similarly, he talked about how the rise of political correctness has made him stop using two words—“fag” and “retarded”—that he previously used unabashedly in both life and comedy.
“We’re not losing anything by being aware that our actions have consequences,” Stewart said. But on the flip side, he added, “You have to be cognizant” that not everyone who uses words like those are “evil.” Repeating a line he used during his talk earlier in the afternoon, Stewart said, “No matter how woke you are, everybody sleeps sometimes. And we have to fucking wake up together, otherwise we don’t wake up at all.”
Like many “punchlines” during Stewart’s set Sunday night, that one drew applause as opposed to laughter. He seemed to be constantly trying to find the balance between being funny and making the audience think about important issues in new ways, a skill he perfected during his 16 years on television. There were times when he managed to achieve both, but there were also stretches of silence from the crowd that went on long enough that Stewart felt the need to comment on them.
Ultimately, some of the biggest laughs came during the second half of the show when Stewart talked about what it’s been like to raise his two children, a topic he deliberately never discussed from behind his Daily Show desk. An extended bit comparing Christian and Jewish holidays was especially effective.
But Stewart knew he had to end his San Francisco show with a galvanizing and hopeful “it gets better” message for his progressive fans. After swinging from George W. Bush to Barack Obama to Donald Trump, he predicted that our next president just might be Janelle Monáe.
To close things out, he told a hilarious story about how he knew America, and New York in particular, would be OK after 9/11. “We’re gonna be OK,” he concluded. And with that, “Glory Days” started playing and he left the stage.