When Jon Stewart Lets You Down

05/01/2014 12:44 PM |

The Daily Show segment Grimm Shady, devoted to Congressman Michael Grimm

The Daily Show devoted its six-minute opening segment last night to Michael Grimm, the Republican congressmember who was recently indicted on 20 counts of fraud (and more!) in connection with a health food restaurant he co-owned and managed on the Upper East Side in the early part of the millennium—the years between when he left the FBI and was elected to the House.

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Grimm represents Staten Island and parts of southwestern Brooklyn and has long been a thorn in the side of his constituents who value either progressive policy or basic decency: he’s long been under investigation for his fundraising, and at least two people connected to it have been indicted; an embarrassing anecdote surfaced about Grimm waving his gun around a nightclub in the 90s and telling all the white people they could leave the scene; he behaved boorishly in a constituent bar, including disappearing in its bathroom with a woman for several minutes, and then blamed the bar when the story broke; and he most recently threatened to throw a television reporter off of a balcony.

From an outsider’s perspective, Grimm’s a clown, an embodiment of the goonish stereotypes that regrettably define much of his district. (The Republican who previously held his seat was arrested for drunk driving, which led to the discovery of a secret second family, which led to him being voted out for a sheisty Democrat who lasted a term before losing to Grimm.) But from an insider’s perspective—a constituent’s—he’s also, you know, a poor congressional representative, even if you share his politics. He’s a bad person. So it was welcome to hear that Bill Maher announced that, out of all the members of the House, Grimm would be one of two that he would target to defeat in November: not because he’s the most conservative, but because he’s the worst.

Jon Stewart’s segment last night? Less welcome. I was, like many people I’m sure, excited to see last night/this morning that The Daily Show had decided to skewer Grimm: that it would bring more negative attention to him, more nationwide ignominy that could hurt his chances in November. The worse he seems, the more embarrassing he comes, the more likely at least swing voters are to turn against him. (As an aside this is a tricky spot: Grimm’s opponent, Dominic Recchia, played a pro-developer’s role in the Zamperlification of Coney Island that turned me off to him. But one problem at a time, I suppose.)

Stewart laid into Grimm as the most recent embodiment of the northeast’s persistent corruption problem (see; Chris Christie), connecting for viewers the indictments to the NY1 clip (which made international headlines) in which Grimm threatened to “break” reporter Michael Scotto—”like a boy.” But the longer the segment went on, the more absurd it became: Stewart staging a puppet show in which archetypal gangsters argued about healthy diets, and kiddingly lamenting the fact that our scandals are so sissy.

It was sort of funny, but it had no bite—a too-frequent problem with Stewart, who often puts on kid-gloves when interviewing powerful guests. It was toothless satire more about Staten Island cliches than a member of congress who not only still represents his district (because there’s no law preventing lawmakers from making laws even while out on bail) and is committed to running a vigorous reelection campaign—a campaign he could conceivably win, if he can convince enough local conservatives that the charges against him are “politically motivated.” That might be hilarious to people watching at home. But to those of us who live in his district, it’s grim.

Follow Henry Stewart on Twitter @henrycstewart

One Comment

  • This was a pretty lame segment, but I do think the “lack of teeth” was consistent with how the Daily Show covers random semi-local stories that are newsworthy for a day. If there’s a good parallel or connection to a national story, he ties it to the larger issue and often finds that magical place where comedic gold and social commentary are one in the same.

    However, Stewart tries to avoid making every story about a larger issue (that is sort of Fox News’ shtick). Keeping things light maintains an important balance that keeps the show from being too preachy and is part of his whole “you can’t take me seriously, I’m just making jokes” defense.

    In this case, there was no real connection to anything interesting so they decided to cover it lightly. I’m not sure why the writers couldn’t think of anything other than hand-puppets… perhaps they were imagining the myriad ways they could have covered it if Staten Island was part of New Jersey and Grimm had ties to Christie?