Jon Stewart’s guest on tonight’s “The Daily Show” is Rep. Anthony Weiner, who many New Yorkers know as the man who almost ran for mayor against Michael Bloomberg in 2009, ultimately decided against it, and probably regretted that decision after seeing how close Bloomberg’s Democratic challenger Bill Thompson came.
But what many may not know is that earlier in their careers, Stewart and Weiner were roommates, living together in a crash pad in Soho back when Stewart was first hitting New York’s stand-up clubs, and Weiner was working for then-Congressman Chuck Schumer. (Technically, Stewart was actually rooming with a girl Weiner was dating, and Weiner was the boyfriend who moved on in.)
I interviewed Weiner for City Scoops magazine last year, when a mayoral run still looked possible, and asked him about his relationship with Stewart. Weiner, who said that he and Jon were still friends, surprised me with some negative comments about “The Daily Show,” calling it a “scam,” accusing it of fostering political cynicism, and claiming it had a “corrosive effect” on politics. Here’s the exchange:
LG: Have you been on “The Daily Show?”
AW: No. I don’t have a book. You gotta be selling something to go on his show.
LG: Well, if you run for Mayor…
AW: If I become Mayor, then they’ll probably waive that requirement. I wouldn’t want to go…I don’t know.
LG: Because it would be too weird?AW: No, I love Jon’s show, and I TiVo it and watch it every day. But I think it has a bit of a corrosive effect on my business.
LG: In what sense?
AW: Its entire ethos is to make fun of politicians. Colbert’s worse…or better at it, I don’t know. I guess it’s really not fair to say it’s corrosive. It’s just that for a remarkable number of Jon’s viewers, that’s the sole source of news, and that’s both good and bad. It’s good that they’re gonna get it somewhere, and if it’s gonna be at a comedy show I’d rather it be there than Bill Maher or something like that. But on the other side, I don’t like the idea that there’s such a cynical view of politics and government.
LG: But you understand why that cynicism exists, right?
AW: Do I understand why that cynicism exists? Yes. I think it exists because of Jon’s show.
LG: Do you really?
AW: We could have the circular argument if you want. I think it accelerates itself. I think there becomes a feedback loop that’s corrosive. Congressmen do dumb things, yes, then are highlighted for doing dumb things, and highlighted some more, and people watch it and say that congressmen do dumb things, and so then when another congressman does a dumb thing, it’s like, “Well, my audience wants to watch a congressman do a dumb thing,” and then the audience laughs at the congressman doing a dumb thing, and then Jon says, “Hey, I got a great scam here, lemme go find another congressman doing a dumb thing,” and where do I get in? Where do I get in not doing a dumb thing? Not being a bozo?
LG: Have you ever expressed that to Jon?
AW: Oh yeah, we had…yes. The answer is yes.
LG: What did he have to say?
AW: The argument was somewhat predictable.
LG: Well, after last night, we know very well how Jon argues. (This interview took place the day after Stewart’s takedown of CNBC commentator Jim Cramer)
AW: What I thought was interesting about last night was the irony of watching the comedian be critical of the news guy for being funny.
LG: I don’t think that was the reason…
AW: …at the crux of it, it was the news guy defending himself by saying, “I’m being an entertainer. I’m being funny.” And the comedian saying, “Dude, don’t do that. You be the serious one and I’ll be…” which is kind of a theme of Jon’s joust with the “Crossfire” guys. The irony with Jon…we have to remember that Jon was critical of “Crossfire” because it dumbed down the debate. Some of my concern about Jon is that, it’s smart, but it can be just as corrosive, because we’re being treated like we’re dumb. And maybe some of us are.