Two years ago, with the 2016 election just days away, Jon Stewart regaled the crowd at New York’s 12th annual Stand Up for Heroes benefit with the story of how Donald Trump went on an anti-Semitic Twitter rant against him back when he was a just a reality-show host.
Like the rest of the nation, Stewart felt fairly confident that Hillary Clinton would pull off a victory. But he used the anecdote, which ended with a 1:30 a.m. tweet from Trump that read, “Little Jon Stewart is a pussy and would be hopeless in a debate with me,” to illustrate just how unqualified for president he believed him to be. “Vote wisely this November,” he concluded. The rest is history.
As he took the stage once again at this year’s event, which benefits the Bob Woodruff Foundation for wounded veterans and kicks off the 2018 New York Comedy Festival, the former Daily Show host told the audience how he’s feeling about the state of the country on the eve of the first major U.S. election since Trump took office.
Turning to the servicemen and servicewomen who occupied the first few rows at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden, Stewart said, “I’m so glad you’re here, I thought you’d be at the border.”
“I’m so scared!” he continued. “There’s thousands of sharecroppers coming to America at one to two miles an hour. They’ll be here by April. Oh my God, what are we going to do? Probably let them plant things.”
In a recent joint interview with his tour mate Dave Chappelle for Christiane Amanpour’s new PBS series, Stewart said that after Trump won he initially held out some hope that he would rise to the occasion and become a more serious person as president. “I think that oddly enough, he transformed the White House and the White House wasn’t able to transform him,” he said.
After explaining that he’s been away on tour performing for the beautiful people of Norway and Sweden—“I’m no Hitler fan, I’m a Jewish guy, but after being in Scandinavia, I kind of get what he was going for… cheekbone-wise”—Stewart gave the crowd an update on American politics in case they have been similarly out of the loop.
“We’re in a terrible situation in the world, I don’t know if you’re aware of that,” he said. “I don’t really keep up with the news as much as I used to. I don’t have to anymore, I’m not on television. I really want to dive in, but I don’t know how up on things you guys are.” Saying he couldn’t figure out where to start, Stewart asked, “Do you remember that show Celebrity Apprentice?”
In Stewart’s estimation, “Donald Trump has been president forever. He’s never not been president.” That’s why he’s “excited” for this week’s midterms, which could mark the beginning of the end of Trump’s presidency.
Later, Stewart alluded to the recent mass shooting at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, predicting that once again, America is “not going to fucking do anything” about it. “You know, I don’t understand how we’re not doing anything,” he said, telling the troops in the audience, “If other people kill us, as you know, we will make you go to their place forever. It’s basically how Americans learn geography now. But if we kill each other, we do nothing.”
The rest of the night’s entertainment included music from Eric Church and Bruce Springsteen and stand-up sets from Seth Meyers and Jim Gaffigan, who both kept their material almost entirely apolitical on the eve of the election. That was not the case for British comic Jimmy Carr, who earned equal parts laughs and groans from the crowd with his provocative one-liners.
“When Donald Trump first took to office, little did he know,” Carr said at the top of his set, letting that deliberately unfinished sentiment sink in. “Donald Trump’s presidency has really divided public opinion,” he added. “Some people think he’s a breath of fresh air and some people think he’s a fucking idiot. But one thing’s for sure: He’s a fucking idiot.”