One of the worst parts of meeting your idols is the fear, and sometimes the confirmed realization, that they might be assholes. This is what happened to Wyatt Cenac of The Daily Show when he started working with Jon Stewart. Cenac was on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast this week, and during the interview he said that he saw Stewart the same was we all did: as a father figure. Until he stated working under him, that is. When Maron asked him if he’d gotten along with Stewart, Wyatt just said “Naw.” Apparently there was one major event in particular that left Cenac with a not so fond opinion of his now former boss.
Back in 2011, when The Daily Show was regularly covering the presidential primary hopefuls, Stewart at one point did an impression of black Republican Herman Cain that many took major offense to for sounding like an offensive Amos ‘n’ Andy routine. One person who took offense was Wyatt Cenac himself. The way he puts it, he wasn’t outraged, but he didn’t like it.
I don’t think this is from a malicious place, but I think this is from a naive, ignorant place… ‘Oh no, you just did this and you didn’t think about it. It was just the voice that came into your head.’ And so it bugged me.So yes, a lot of people found the bit somewhere between ‘weird’ and ‘totally offensive,’ but Fox News really laid into Stewart. He eventually responded with a funny, self-deprecating segment, but leading up to that, Wyatt says he wasn’t too happy about the direction the writer’s room (in which he was the only black writer) was heading. He told them the original bit, the voice Stewart put on, bothered him, that he “cringed a little bit. It bothered [him].” And Stewart did NOT react well.
[Stewart] got incredibly defensive. I remember he was like, What are you trying to say? There’s a tone in your voice. I was like, “There’s no tone. It bothered me. It sounded like Kingfish.” And then he got upset. And he stood up and he was just like, “Fuck off. I’m done with you.” And he just started screaming that to me. And he screamed it a few times. “Fuck off! I’m done with you.” And he stormed out. And I didn’t know if I had been fired.The fight apparently continued in Stewart’s office until the tension was cut by one of the office’s dogs. (Thanks, puppies!) Still, it left Cenac feeling less than appreciated.
I was shaking, and I just sat there by myself on the bleachers and fucking cried. And it’s a sad thing. That’s how I feel. That’s how I feel in this job. I feel alone.
Now, before you all start readying your pitchforks, I am not saying I think Jon Stewart is an asshole. I am saying this story is disappointing. Maybe there were circumstances that put Stewart on edge. Maybe he was embarrassed and it made him lash out. Or maybe Stewart would have a totally different version of this story if you asked him. Maybe Cenac was giving MAJOR tone and his recounting is as skewed as when that Maine diner mom tried to tell her laughably self-serving angelic version of that nutso diner story. We can’t possibly know. It would be just as unfair to completely write off a man we all hold in such high regard because of one story as it would be to ignore Cenac’s story just because it casts someone we love in a poor light. So l’ll just leave it here for now as a singular “Well, that sure does suck” anecdote.