Stewart and Colbert: The Cult of Cool

Does watching them make you cool?

To paraphrase Chevy Chase, the father of late-night fake news, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are cool – and you’re not.

A survey, commissioned by Comedy Central, found that a significant number of devoted viewers believe others find them “cool” because they watch “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report,” The New York Times reports.

The survey also found that the programs’ audiences are more loyal than fans of other late-night shows and tune in more regularly. Stewart and Colbert fans “wear these shows like a badge,” Beth Coleman, a veep for MTV Entertainment Networks, Comedy Central’s parent company, told the Times. “It’s a cult-like phenomenon.”

Stewart and Colbert certainly have earned their faithful, if not huge, audiences: the smart, timely shows puncture pomposity and expose hypocrisy, primarily in media and politics, four nights a week. And, oh yeah, both programs are damn funny.

But does watching Stewart and Colbert make you cool?

The survey, by Harris Interactive Media, found that a little over 20 percent of the duo’s most dedicated followers believe “people think I’m cool” for watching the shows.

Comedy Central is hoping advertisers will be attracted by passionate, repeat viewers, even if audience numbers lag behind such major network late-night offerings as “The Tonight Show,” “Late Show with David Letterman” and “Nightline.”

But there’s a danger the survey findings could be interpreted to reinforce grumbles that “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” pander to an elite, left-leaning audience that thinks it’s, well, too cool. Portraying Stewart and Colbert as in-crowd favorites with cult followings threatens to marginalize the broad appeal their collective humor packs.

With their blend of topical, political humor and celebrity and author interviews, Stewart and Colbert, in some respects, are built in the mold of the most mainstream of late-night hosts: Johnny Carson.

Who, by the way, was a pretty cool character, himself.

We suspect Stewart and Colbert, who share a penchant for not taking themselves too seriously, will find a moment of zen in being anointed the heads of a cult of cool.

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.

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