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Jon Stewart’s “turd-mining” metaphor explains why he doesn’t miss doing satire in the Trump era

Jon Stewart
AP Photo/Mary Altaffer
Stewart has only appeared in public sporadically since he left “The Daily Show” in 2015.
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Though business may be booming, Jon Stewart wants to make one thing clear: He’s out of the turd business, and he doesn’t seem too interested in getting back into it right now.

The comedian and former Daily Show host popped up on the Late Show last night (Nov. 27) for a long chat with his friend and protégé, Stephen Colbert. The two eventually broached a subject that fans of Stewart wish he’d tackle with more regularity: US president Donald Trump.

Stewart bounced a hilariously intricate metaphor off Colbert that both describes his take on Trump and also explains why he doesn’t feel compelled to return to the unique brand of political satire that made his version of The Daily Show so successful. When asked by Colbert if he misses having a show now that Trump is president, Stewart had this to say:

You and I both famously know we were turd miners. We toiled in the turd mines. We both lost many people close to us to ‘turd lung.’ It’s been a terrible thing. So working at The Daily Show I felt as though I was toiling in the turd mines. And then I finally quit, and a giant turd asteroid heads toward the planet. Now, in that instance, if someone said, ‘You were a turd miner. This is the largest turd deposit ever seen. Don’t you wish you were in there?’ And you’re just like, ‘I’m out of the turd business. I’m out.’

By “turd-mining,” we assume Stewart is talking about the unenviable job he and Colbert, who used to have a satirical news program of his own (The Colbert Report), had of excavating America’s eternally corrosive pit of politics by attempting to make light of it every night. The relevant discussion of turds begins at the 9:33 mark in this video:

Stewart left The Daily Show in 2015, more than a year before Trump was elected president, so the comedian couldn’t have known the turd asteroid was near impact (he announced he was stepping down from the show months before Trump officially started his presidential campaign.) Stewart had already been feeling tired and burnt out on political comedy even before Trump came on the political scene, but the new US president, whom other comedians have struggled to effectively satirize, clearly isn’t making him eager to jump back into the fray.

Since leaving his 16-year role as America’s satirist-in-chief, Stewart has appeared sporadically on talk shows, podcasts, and charity events, but has yet to resume a regular position in the comedy world. His highly anticipated collaboration with HBO, a short-form digital animated series, fell through in 2017; HBO said the ambitious project was just too technically difficult to pull off. (Stewart is, however, planning his first stand-up comedy special in 20 years.)

Another of Stewart’s Daily Show protégés, Last Week Tonight host John Oliver, has found a niche that works for him: turning away from what he calls Trump’s “fire hose of bullshit” to shed light on other issues affecting the world. He certainly hasn’t ignored the countless scandals of Trump’s administration, nor avoided the president as a subject of mockery, but he’s not really “toiling in the turd mines” either.

As comedians still try to figure out how best to approach a US presidency that often defies satire, Stewart seems content as a semi-retired, occasional provocateur. Still, he couldn’t help but get one clever (and, as usual, perceptive) crack in at Trump’s expense:

“I don’t think Donald Trump likes the job of president, but he likes the trappings of power,” he told Colbert. “I don’t think he likes the, ‘Why are you talking to me about energy policy? Just get the shot of me going onto the helicopter.'”

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