After nearly seven years since Jon Stewart quit his legendary 16-year stint as host of The Daily Show, the veteran comedian and social critic made what should have been his triumphant return to public life with his new podcast and Apple TV+ series, The Problem with Jon Stewart. Sadly, just a few episodes in, he made the mistake of telling a joke.
While discussing the phenomena of Mississippi bar mitzvahs with his writers Jay Jurden and Hendrik Blix on a December episode, Stewart goofed that someone seeing the Gringotts Bank goblins in the Harry Potter movies—which are for children—might say, “Do you know what the folks who run the bank are? […] Jews.”
Although the exchange occurred almost a month ago, it was suddenly trending all over social media on January 5—thanks to teeth-gnashing headlines such as Variety‘s “Jon Stewart Calls Out J.K. Rowling’s Anti-Semitic Goblins in ‘Harry Potter’ Franchise,” IndieWire‘s “Jon Stewart Slams J.K. Rowling for Anti-Semitic Goblins in ‘Harry Potter’ Series,” and Newsweek‘s “Jon Stewart Accuses J.K. Rowling of Antisemitism in ‘Harry Potter'”.
If that seems like a whole lot of slamming, accusing and calling-out for one moderately amusing utterance, Stewart did go on to mention the hateful Jewish caricatures in the anti-semitic classic, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, adding, “J.K. Rowling was like, ‘Can we get these guys to run our bank?'”
If the absurdity of the premise didn’t clue some watchers to the fact that humor was afoot on the comedian’s comedy broadcast, perhaps his peals of laughter and the cackles of Blix and Jurden might have been taken into evidence. It also didn’t help that Rowling herself is considered a humor-free subject among many journalists, who have had her on their hit-lists for years because she’s made statements which they consider to be transphobic.
Still, Stewart felt it was incumbent upon him to give the internet a primer on jokes, their various premises, and, generally, the way humans communicate with other members of the species.
“There is no reasonable person that could’ve watched it and not seen it as a light-hearted conversation amongst colleagues and chums,” he clarified in a Twitter post titled “Newsweek et al, may eat my ass.”
Stewart continued, “Let me just say this, super-clearly, as clearly as I can… Hello. My name is Jon Stewart. I do not think J.K. Rowling is anti-semitic. I did not accuse her of being anti-semitic. I do not think the Harry Potter movies are anti-semitic. I really love the Harry Potter movies, probably too much for a gentleman of my considerable age.”
He did do some actual calling-out this time, though.
“To Newsweek,” Stewart said. “Your business model is fucking arson. And not the good kind. Not the good kind of arson where they light stuff and control it to prevent forest fires in the future. The kind of arson where you’re on the mountain and you’ve got fucking five minutes and you don’t know where the dogs are.”
Is it Newsweek‘s business plan to literally light a mountain on fire? Apparently, that’s anybody’s guess.