“Yeah, you, uh, you won,” was Jon Stewart’s concession speech to former employee, network-mate, and pal Stephen Colbert on Thursday’s Late Show. Stewart was referring to it being the tenth anniversary of the then-Comedy Central stars’ 2010 Rally To Restore Sanity And/Or Fear, the pair’s cheeky, massively attended riposte to former Fox News conspiracy loon and current bug-eyed apocalyptic doomsayer Glenn Beck’s rally for whiny, pissed-off white people around the same time. (Beck held his white grievance rally on the anniversary of The March On Washington, just to make sure everybody knew where that pre-Trump hate party was coming from.) Anyway, Stewart—speaking from an appropriately dark and bunker-like space—gave Colbert his decade-late props, noting that it was Colbert’s fake right-wing blowhard character who truly predicted just how everyone would be anxiety-watching their TVs and phones in their pandemic battened-down basements, waiting to see if the reality show bigot-buffoon who rode a garbage-wave of white American resentment and unapologetic racism to the White House would get reelected. In three days.
“I’m not good, Stephen,” Stewart admitted when the apologetically victorious Colbert asked his friend how he’s doing, really. “I’m anxious, I’m terrified, I’m lonely,” the unshaven Stewart confessed. Noting that, when he appeared on Colbert’s show some 11 days after Donald Trump’s (for he is that bigot-buffoon) inauguration back in 2016, he already felt like he’d aged at least four years, the grizzled Stewart told Colbert that he—like everyone except for the makers of ubiquitously lucrative campaign ads—just wants this to be over. Of course, he knows what outcome would be best (for his sanity, the country, and human dignity and survival), but Stewart compared his current state to a marathon runner who doesn’t know if that next looming hump in the road is Heartbreak Hill, or just the midway point in an interminable, painful, nipple-chafing slog of misery and uncertainty.
Asked what is the finish line in that metaphor, Stewart said, “The finish line, for me, is this man not being president any more, and a thousand people a day not dying from a disease we don’t understand.” Colbert tried to console his friend by saying that at least it’ll all be over on Tuesday, right? (Colbert is tempting fate by doing another live Election Night special on Showtime.) Except, as Stewart said, thanks to COVID, mail-in votes, and Republican efforts to stop states from counting legally cast mail-in and absentee votes, we might not actually know where we are on the race route by Tuesday night. Joking that, in addition to Trump and GOP accomplices’ barely concealed scheme to once more undermine American democracy by rigging this pivotal election, an asteroid might hit us on Monday, “because it’s been that kind of fucking year!,” Stewart appeared genuinely shocked when Colbert told Stewart about his next guest, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson.
See, there is an asteroid scheduled to whiz perilously past Earth on Monday, and it really has been that kind of fucking year. Would Stewart actually welcome the fiery, Independence Day-style destruction of this world if that meant he didn’t have to strap back into his late-night hosting boots and once more delve deep inside Bullshit Mountain (regardless of who wins the presidency)? Probably not—after all, that Apple TV Plus money is undoubtedly pretty sweet—but, as political satirists the world over have discovered in the last four interminable years, out-doing real life’s bottomlessly stupid, venal, and horrible daily news is a tougher gig than ever. As Colbert told Stewart from inside the nightly grind of political comedy, “Jon, it’s 2020—all metaphors are real now.” At least, at the grateful Stewart’s urging, Colbert was able to access his dusty Tolkien memory palace and pulled up an impressively extended, goosebump-raising passage about finding hope in even the darkest, most terrifying nights. Hey, if metaphors fail, maybe fairy tales will save us.