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Does Jon Stewart Matter?

Jon Stewart
Michael Greenberg/CBS via Getty Images

Time for your weekly edition of the Defector Funbag. Got something on your mind? Email the Funbag. And buy Drew’s book, The Night The Lights Went Out, while you’re at it. Today, we're talking about Dre Greenlaw, cherry tomatoes, gambling, blue cards, and more.

Your letters:


So Jon Stewart sucks now, right? I watched his Daily Show return, and it was him both sides-ing Trump and Biden. I don't know when that shift happened, maybe right before he made that crappy political movie and/or the end of his initial Daily Show run, but it's a bummer to see.

I don't think he sucks. I watched Stewart’s first episode back at The Daily Show, and it delivered exactly as promised. Stewart was lively, funny, and more than accurate in shitting on both Trump and Biden. It was good television. The real question is whether or not that matters. Because when Stewart first took over The Daily Show, he ended up serving as mother hen to affluent liberals who just wanted to feel good about themselves. I don't know that this version of Stewart is all that different.

Because we're moving (hopefully) out of the Irony Age into something much more serious, and much messier. Stewart was the perfect guy for the moment back in 2000, because snarky disaffection seemed like the correct response to George W. Bush starting two endless wars while Democrats sat there with their thumbs up their asses. Stewart also prospered at a time when actual journalists were still employed, and when having a Woke White Guy hosting a late night show counted as diversity.

None of that is true anymore. The entrenchment of digital culture has lifted the veil off of government, industry, and societal dynamics in this country almost completely. You know that shit is fucked. You know where it’s fucked (usually Florida), you know how it’s fucked, and you know who’s responsible for the fucking. You also know who’s doing the real work to change things and who’s just talking up change to make themselves look good. Jon Stewart is a hero to the latter category of Americans, and always has been. This essay from Steve Almond about Stewart (and Stephen Colbert, one of my idols) had the man nailed:

“Over the past decade, political humor has proliferated not as a daring form of social commentary, but a reliable profit source. Our high-tech jesters serve as smirking adjuncts to the dysfunctional institutions of modern media and politics, from which all their routines derive. Their net effect is almost entirely therapeutic: they congratulate viewers for their fine habits of thought and feeling while remaining careful never to question the corrupt precepts of the status quo too vigorously.”

Almond wrote that piece a dozen years ago, and here's Stewart back at his old job, profiting handsomely from a media industrial complex that has consolidated in hideous ways since he left. I’d like to think that Stewart is a better advocate in 2024, but he's still a rich white guy whose only job is to make you laugh at the news. Back to Almond:

“Stewart and Colbert make their nut by catering to those citizens who choose to laugh at the results rather than work to change them.”

Stewart closed his first episode back with an earnest observation that the work to improve things is hard, and it never ends. So I'm interested to see if Stewart and his co-hosts lean more into the serious journalistic bent that he briefly deployed over at Apple, or if his honest talk is just another easy way for him to get claps and laughs.

Sometimes I worry that I'm no different. I have the right views (or at least, I think I do), but is that enough? Am I making a difference? Have I ever? What DOES make a difference? This is the shit that gnaws at me. It’s also the reason I semi-retired from politics writing four years ago. I’m not the right man for the times, and perhaps neither is Jon Stewart anymore.


What type of murder spree does Steve Belichick need to go on to escape the shadow of his father Bill?

Lemme tell you something: Steve Belichick could become the most prolific serial killer in American history—we’re talking a thousand victims, all murdered and defiled in hideous ways—and his obit would STILL mention his old man in the very first sentence. “Steve Belichick, son of the greatest coach in NFL history and mass murderer, was executed by wild boar pen last night in Tahlequah, Okla.” There’s no escaping that shadow.

And does Steve Belichick LOOK like the kind of fella who could make a name for himself out there? No. He looks like that one convenience store clerk in town who lets 17-year-olds buy a six-pack without carding them.


There is literal science on this topic of piss length: all mammals take 21 seconds to pee.

Huh! Well I don’t know about you, but I’ve blown past that marker on many an occasion. And with a healthy prostate!


I’ve only noticed this since reaching my thirties, but every time I walk past a bunch of teenagers, they seem to be constantly laughing hysterically about something. I always think, “What are they laughing at? Surely not ME?!!!” But seriously, I don’t remember laughing as frequently as these new kids when I was their age. I suppose I should salute them for laughing while they can before the weight of the world crushes them, but what about you? Does every group of teens you pass on the street seem to be under the influence of nitrous?

I laughed way more when I was a teen. I haven’t morphed into one of those “It takes a lot to get me to laugh!” boomers. They’re the worst. But I’m also not spending all night with my best buds, cracking each other up over stupid shit. I do that online with the Defector staff, as you might with your friends in a group text. But that’s not the same as you and three teenage besties all high, all sitting on a single bed, all screaming, "SUPERPLUNGE MY ASS!" as loud as you can for no reason other than that you can. The teenage mind is wired for those moments, and it’s the best part of being a teen. It’s also why adults hate teens, because teens get to have all of the fun while our lives have, inexorably, grown more serious.

Does this mean I like it when random teens snicker at me behind my back? Or when they clog up the aisles at the supermarket during their lunch break? Or when they decide to do ollies off of my roof? No. I want all of those teens euthanized. But they’re no different from '70s/'80s teens in that way. Teens have always been cackling jackasses. This is why I’m going skiing with my high school friends this weekend. Gonna get incredibly STOOPID for three days, then come back home and file my fucking taxes.


You have been both labor and management at this point. When someone tells you how many hours they worked that day/that week/in general, what percentage do you immediately discount that number by? I felt I had to break it down:

Co-worker [non-friend]: 45%
Co-worker [friend]: 15% (this number can start off pretty low if you are real friends)

Employee: 55% (make up a number you think will keep up with their fake number and add a few hours)

Boss: 80%? 90%?

I swear to god, Defector just did a training exercise to help sort out just how much work each of us do every week. We even kept time journals to track how and when we blogged. The results turned out to be a little squishy, because what constitutes “work” when you’re a writer? I think of ideas and hash them out when I’m in the shower, on the toilet, lying in bed, eating a snack, driving my kids around, and doing all kinds of other crap. It’s hard to quantify that.

So while I’ve been both labor and management in my time working in the white collar sector, I’ve also never given much credence to so-called hours worked. That shit matters if you’re a waiter, or if you’re working in an Amazon fulfillment center. Your shift is X hours, you get paid by those hours, and the shit you do is easily accounted for … so much that Jeff Bezos can wrest bathroom breaks away from you if he likes. But an office job, where your boss comes in at 7:00 a.m., closes his door, and then comes back out at 6:00 p.m. to go home? Fuck if I know if they did anything useful in that timespan.

Thus, all I ever go by is output, not input. Do I see your work out there? Is it good? Then I don’t give a shit if it took you five minutes or five weeks to do it. This is why I left the office before 6:00 p.m. every day, even if my co-workers were still there. I did my shit, so my obligations to the job were fulfilled. Miller Time awaited.

As you might have guessed, most executives in this country don’t share that view. You’ve probably had a few of them as your boss. They may or may not have been named Jon Gruden. These are the people for whom good work means MORE work, even if you’re spending late hours at the office just staring at the fucking vending machine. They become the Timeclock Police, and surreptitiously train their underlings to think in similar terms. You and I know that doesn’t correlate to increased productivity at an office gig, and that it probably even detracts from it. No matter. America is still a place where working to death is a virtue, and that work must have a number affixed to it so that everyone can compare and contrast. Industrial titans also want there to be zero work/life balance, so how do you come up with their precious number when everything bleeds into everything else?

I don’t ride with any of that shit and never have. When I worked as a copywriter at Ogilvy, we had to fill out timecards because the agency had been sued, successfully, for overcharging the Office of National Drug Control Policy by fudging billable hours (if you’re gonna rip a client off, best not to have that client be the federal government). The agency was fined nearly $2 million and two of its execs even went to jail for the scandal. They didn’t want that to happen again, hence the timecards. I lied on more than a few of them. Everyone did. Everyone lies about their hours, because why wouldn’t they?



Just saw that soccer is introducing a blue card. Because I’m American and therefore apathetic to soccer AND lazy, I didn’t read the article, so how big of a deal is this? Would this be like MLB saying, “we’re changing the pitching system to two strikes is an out and three balls is a walk”?

The blue card splits the difference between a yellow card and red card by sending the offending player off the pitch for 10 minutes and into the dreaded “sin bin.” That means power plays would now exist in soccer. This would have broad tactical implications, the same way challenge flags did when the NFL first introduced them in 1999. It wouldn’t fundamentally alter soccer in the same way that, say, making the ball cube-shaped would. But it is significant enough of a change that it pissed off the wrong people and has been temporarily postponed. Blue cards were only due to be implemented in trial form anyway, so they weren’t going to suddenly appear across every league on every continent. If they ever are formally adopted, it’ll take years to happen. And by then, everyone will either have gotten used to them, or they’ll have gotten used to complaining about them. Just like VAR.

As for me, I’d like to know: Why all this negative reinforcement? Why all these cards for when players do something bad? How is that gonna affect their psyches? Why not a gold card for when a soccer player does something good, huh? I think if you help an opponent up, your team should get to ADD a player on the pitch. And whoever lead the EPL in "respects" every year will win the Nigel Tebow Trophy. How about it, lads? Let’s foster some real brotherhood out there!


I’ve noticed a lot more of my middle school students talking and writing about “crushing lines” and “killing the spread” and “five-leg parlays” (all direct quotes from journals). This is only going to escalate. Do you see this as a potentially huge problem not many people are talking about, or is it more or less irrelevant because 11-13 year olds don’t have the funds to get into real gambling trouble? Also, do you floss?

Yes I floss, but only once a day before bed. Don’t tell my dentist. Dentists want you flossing every time you eat a potato chip. I’ll never be that meticulous.

Now, gambling. I have read enough moral panic stories in SI and the like over my lifetime to know that youth gambling is hardly a new phenomenon, and that area moms are concerned about it. It’s just that gambling is now more visible than it once was, because the sports gambling industry no longer needs to exist underground. You see it everywhere you go, which means that the consequences of gambling addiction are never far from your mind. This was all much easier to ignore back when point spreads were relegated to the back pages of USA Today and not spray painted onto your bedroom wall by Roger Goodell himself.

But you can’t ignore it now, and indeed few people have. This isn’t potentially a huge problem. It already is one:

The National Council on Problem Gambling has found that 60 to 80 percent of high schoolers have gambled in the past year, and 14 to 19 percent either fit the criteria of having a gambling problem or are showing “signs of losing control.” Overall, high schoolers exhibit double the rate of gambling issues as adults.

I don’t see those numbers going down anytime soon, because no one currently profiting from legalized sports gambling has any interest in turning the money spigot off. And I have zero faith in the U.S. government to impose laws or regulations that actually improve things, because that’s not how our government rolls. Like a lot of other shit, this is something you can only control within your own, personal sphere of influence.

I gamble with my kids. I play fantasy sports with them. I have them fill out NCAA brackets and Super Bowl boxes. I let them pick my DraftKings lineup on occasion. And I’ve taught them how to play blackjack, showing them the strategy chart and playing the part of the dealer at the dinner table with them, paying them their winnings when they’ve beaten the house and taking their money when they’ve lost. I’ve done all of this on the smallest possible scale, with no single bet ever exceeding more than a buck or two.

Along the way, I’ve explained to them that everything about these games is designed to keep you playing. Because the longer you play, the more you lose. The casinos wouldn’t make money if that weren’t the case. The kids got all of that, because that explanation makes sense to anyone thinking rationally. I also told them that if they ever bet big and lose, I ain’t bailing ‘em out. That last part they definitely listened to. So my kids enjoy minor gambling, but they also understand that, OK yeah, this could get out of hand real quick. That’s all that I can do, and it’s working well so far. There may come a time when they get hooked anyway, and that’s when I’ll have to go set fire to FanDuel headquarters.


What professions do you think get hit on the most while working? Waitress/bartender has gotta be #1, but flight attendant feels like #2 maybe?

We’re not counting strippers in this, right? Because then this isn’t a competition. Otherwise you won’t find any woman, in any vocation, who hasn’t been hit on at length by customers, co-workers, bosses, underlings, vendors, passersby, and Jeffrey Toobin. They could be working in a fucking coal mine, with gear covering every part of their body and face, and Larry down in Shaft 78 will still give them a pinch on the ass. If I sat here being like, “I bet zoologists don’t get hit on much,” 78 women working in that profession would tell me, “Dude, you have NO idea how fucking weird people get in this business.” There is no definitive answer here.

Except for actress.


Do the 49ers win if Dre Greenlaw doesn't suffer that freaky injury?

I can’t prove a negative, amigo. Also, even if Greenlaw hadn’t gotten hurt, Patrick Mahomes would still have been Patrick Mahomes. So this is a futile exercise on more than one level.

But it is worth taking a moment to mourn Greenlaw’s injury. That poor man made it all the way to the Super Bowl and then snapped his Achilles just running out onto the field: something he’d already done thousands of times in his life without incident. That’s not fair. That’s horseshit. All of the freak Achilles injuries that happened this season were horseshit. If I ran the NFL (fingers crossed!), I’d have every player’s tendons replaced with synthetic Kevlar strips. Then I’d coat their bones in adamantium. And then I’d give them gun arms. Like, arms that have guns that can pop out of them. AND FLIGHT! Every player would be able to fly and shit! Tell me that wouldn’t kick ass!


To get my weight under control, I've gone back to my practice of eating only salads for lunch. That begs the question: what size of cherry tomato is too big and you skip it? Dime size? Quarter? 

I don’t fuck with whole cherry tomatoes in my salad. I slice each one in half when making a salad of my own. If I get served a salad with whole cherry tomatoes in it, I just eat around them and then wolf them down at the end if I feel like it.

To that end, cherry tomatoes make a fine-ass snack, especially if you’re on weight patrol as Kevin is at the moment. I buy a carton of them at the store, I put them on the kitchen counter, and then I grab a few to pop into my mouth when the mood strikes. I like them just about the size of an eyeball. I probably should have picked a different analogy there, but that was the first one that I thought of, so in it stays. Love me an eyeball tomato.


If Zach Wilson quit the Jets and went to Georgia right now, with time to train with the team and let the coaching staff make adjustments to their offense, would Wilson's NFL experience make him a lock to take the starter's job from Carson Beck? Let's say Bryce Young went back to Alabama today, do you think he would beat out Jalen Milroe? Or has the NFL exposed weaknesses in some starting NFL QBs which would make the only NCAA teams that would take them places like Nebraska or Texas A&M?

Zach Wilson and Bryce Young would kick ass if they got sent back down to college. Any college. They’re both lousy pros; I’m even comfortable saying that Young will never recover from his rookie season. But NFL football is a different sport, and both of those quarterbacks haven’t unlearned any of the shit that made them good back before they were drafted. You could argue that Wilson’s confidence is shot, but all he needs to get it back is an early September matchup against Ball State. HEY PRESTO! Suddenly Zach is throwing strikes and banging your mom again. It’s just that easy.

It’s also possible in the distant future. The Big Ten and SEC are already privately huddling up together to discuss the future of college football, and they’re not brainstorming ways to help the Mountain West become more relevant. They’re going to join forces, ditch the NCAA, and create their own superleague. Once that happens, they can do whatever they want. They can pay players directly. They can formally establish themselves as a minor league arm of the NFL. And they can ditch eligibility requirements. Why the fuck not? If you ditch amateurism, you may as well ditch all of it. Let the NFL washouts come back to school and live a better life there. We might even get a killer Adam Sandler comedy based on that very premise! WHO SAYS NO?


My daughter is 10 and became a Swiftie over the Eras tour. Then she doubled down and got into football after Trayvis(?) happened. Have any of your kids done this obsession with an artist? If so, how do you keep your sanity? I love football and have no issues with Swift as an artist/person but I swear I will cry if I hear my kid singing “Lavender Haze” one more time. I’ll take any and all coping advice. 

I haven’t had this problem in ages, because all of my kids have headphones. In fact, my wife and I mandated it. Anytime they blared some shit that we didn’t wanna hear, we’d yell PUT ON YOUR FUCKING HEADPHONES, and then they’d obey to avoid being thrown out onto the street.

But I never considered the idea of them forcing their musical tastes on me by breaking out into song. That’s a whole new, hellish dimension to the problem, and one that I’m not well-equipped to solve. I shared a dorm hall once with a girl who sang showtunes out loud at all hours of the day. I wanted to murder her, but did not. That represents the extent of which I’ve handled a similar problem. I think I yelled SHUT THE FUCK UP through the wall at her when I was shitfaced once. It didn’t work.

Anyway, ask your kid to sing in another room.

Email of the week!


Have you ever had someone roast the absolute shit out of you without even seemingly meaning to? I was in my early 30s when I got ID'd at a liquor store. Pretty nice right? But then the clerk added that I could be, "a 19 year old who was down on his luck." Got me good enough that I remember him 15 years later.

Holy shit that’s brutal.

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