Like all snarky liberals, I stayed up late on Thursday night to watch the end of an era–Jon Stewart’s last episode of The Daily Show. I’m sad that he’s leaving for many reasons, and Trevor Noah has some awfully big shoes to fill. I know that it won’t be the same, but I sincerely hope that Noah likes historians half as much as Stewart. As one of my friends said on facebook “What I love about Jon Stewart is that he is as (or more) excited about his historians as guests as his entertainment friends.”
During his final stretch, historians continued to be featured. Doris Kearns Goodwin, David McCullough and Sarah Vowell all made appearances. Of course, it might make sense that a snarky historian like Vowell would be a regular on The Daily Show. And McCullough and Goodwin are some of the most widely read historians today. These aren’t exactly obscure folks Stewart is interviewing. But let’s face it–shouldn’t we ecstatic any time a historian sits in the same chair as a Hollywood celebrity? I can’t think of another popular medium where historians and their books are regularly featured, honored, and promoted. This is public history at its finest.
But if you dig deeper into Comedy Central’s schedule, you’ll find there’s a greater love of history there than well, maybe some other network that calls itself the History Channel. I never really got into Drunk History, but they’re doing a heck of a job of skewering both well known stories and those that are hiding in the shadows. I hate that I love Another Period, but it cracks me up on a routine basis. It pokes at so many different angles of the early 20th century–and there are plenty of jokes that will fly right over non-history nerd’s heads, which is awesome. How often do history nerds get the “insider” jokes?
None of these things are “serious history” but I’ve long believed that part of our problem as historians is that we often take ourselves too seriously. History is the story of humanity, and people can be awfully funny.
I know The Daily Show will change with Trevor Noah as host (and honestly, it should feel different). But I sincerely hope that I’ll continue to delight in interviews with some of my favorite historians–and they’ll get exposure to a broader audience. And maybe one day, there will be more than one place in this world where historians are treated the same as Hollywood celebrities.