John Stewart is known for his spot-on political commentary, but in recent years, he’s also been pretty damn good when discussing race.
Stewart’s comments on Ferguson, and his debate with Bill O’Reilly over white privilege are just two of the times when the comedian has schooled white America on the state of race relations in our country. But do Stewart’s off camera actions match his progressive on-camera persona? A recent interview with former Daily Show writer Wyatt Cenac has caused many to wonder.
According to Cenac, Stewart told him to “fuck off” during a 2011 conversation about then-presidential contender Herman Cain. At the time, Stewart mocked Cain using a stereotypical “Black voice” that made Cenac uncomfortable. When Cenac told Stewart he wanted them to axe the skit, things got heated.
Cenac recounted the scene on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast:
[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.
Cenac, who was a writer on The Daily Show for four years, said he objected to the Cain skit because he felt a sense of responsibility to the Black community and didn’t want to mock Black folks.
Something like this, I represent my community, I represent my people, and I try to represent them the best that I can. I gotta be honest if something seems questionable, because if not, then I don’t want to be in a position where I am being untrue not just to myself but to my culture, because that’s exploitative. I’m just allowing something to continue if I’m just going to go along with it. And sadly, I think that’s the burden a lot of people have to have when you are “the one.” You represent something bigger than yourself whether you want to or not.
While the Daily Show appears to be a progressive program, Cenac said as the lone Black writer on staff at the time, the confrontation with Stewart made him feel incredibly alone.
“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,” he said. “That’s how I feel in this job. I feel alone.”