I love The Daily Show. I watch it every morning–can’t stay up late enough to watch it live–and I think its incredibly funny. He’s been wrong a lot lately, but that doesn’t change the fact that Jon Stewart is the most consistently funny political comedian of my lifetime, and a thoughtful and incisive interviewer.
People get two things wrong about Jon. First of all, Jon’s favorite targets are not politicians or policies, but the media’s coverage of them. He loves to attack Fox News, for example, because he thinks their particular brand of ideologically driven news is really really funny. But he attacks CNN as much or more, because their desperation for ratings gives their broadcasts a show-offy edge that’s hilarious. It’s been interesting to watch Jon’s coverage recently of Toronto mayor Rob Ford. I mean, you have to cover Rob Ford if you’re a politically-inclined comedian. “I only smoke crack cocaine when I’m in a drunken stupor in my basement. Only then.” That’s funny stuff. But Jon clearly feels guilty–well, ambivalent– about it. Let’s face it, Rob Ford is a guy with a serious, life-threatening problem. If he drops dead, that’s not so funny.
Jon does get into politics, a lot, and he’s never funnier than when he’s really really ticked off about something. And I tend to agree with him. This creates the impression that he’s a serious political player, a commentator who we should listen to and regard. I don’t think that’s true, mostly. He’s a comedian. As he puts it, “I don’t think what I do is honorable. But I try to do it honorably.”
But on one issue, he’s completely, wholly, entirely wrong. And it’s an issue he’s spent two whole shows on recently. And I have to speak up here. Friends tell friends the truth, and Jon, I’m sorry, but you’re allowing your own parochial provincialism to blind you to the truth of things. Here’s Jon’s initial rant. I’ll grant you, it’s passionate, strongly stated. Colorful images and metaphors. But I’m here to tell you something you clearly need to hear.
Chicago-style stuffed pizza is delicious.
In grad school, I worked for three years in a pizza parlor. Garcia’s Pizza, it was called, owned by a company called the Flying Tomato Brothers. We sold deep dish pizza by the slice. And then we expanded, and included a stuffed pizza option. It didn’t take long for stuffed to dominate our menu. I still make it at home, for my kids. It’s incredible pizza. It’s amazing.
And yes, I’ve been to New York. I’ve eaten New York style flat pizza. And I’m a civilized human being. I eat New York pizza the way God intended, off a paper plate, folded. Skinny end first. And it’s okay. It’s not bad, as a change of pace. For those days when you really feel more like crust, and are willing to short-change the cheese and the sauce.
What New York pizza really does, though, is emphasize pepperoni. And pepperoni, though tasty, gives people heartburn. That’s the whispered secret behind why New Yorkers are so in-your-face confrontational.
When you go to New York, you become a New Yorker; that’s just basic survival. I remember flying into Kennedy from overseas one time. We were standing in a line waiting to go through customs. Each person in line was going to a different customs official, and then the line would re-form as we headed to ground transport. As we approached the customs desks, the woman ahead of me said, in that strident New York accent, “when we get through customs, and go back in line, I’m still ahead of you. I’m not arguin’, just bein’ informational. I’m in front.” ‘Infumational’ is how she put it. And she wasn’t kidding. If my customs guy was faster than hers, it was my obligation to wait for her to finish, so she could still be ahead of me in line. And she wasn’t confronting me about this fact; she was informing me of it. She was in front of me. Just sayin’.
There’s an appropriate New York response to that and similar announcements, I’ve learned. It consists of two words, the second one ‘you’, the first one beginning with the letter ‘f.’ But I’m a nice Mormon boy from Indiana/Utah. I allowed myself to be cowed. Intimidated. By a fifty-ish red-haired woman a foot and a half shorter than I am. I finished with customs first, then waited so she could be ahead of me in the next line.
But why would she say that? Why would she be ‘infumational’ on that point, so confrontational, with a total stranger. The real answer, I’m convinced, is New York pizza. The pure acidulous pepperoni, unleavened and untamed by copious amounts of mozzarella cheese and marinara sauce, had curdled the milk of human kindness in her. She had been raised to eat pizza aggressively, folding the crust, biting down in the tip. Instead of savoring it, on a plate, with a knife and fork, and really getting the full flavor of all that melted mozz.
Jon did make amends, after a Chicago restauranteur came by the show with some deep dish, allowing as how it was ‘tasty.’ But what the guy gave him was just deep dish, maybe with a hint of stuffed crust. It wasn’t full blown stuffed pizza, the kind Jon–in what I can only defend as a sad lapse caused by short-term temporary early-onset dementia– had referred to as ‘a marinara bath for rats.’ Even Jon’s new pizza mogul friend dismissively called stuffed pizza ‘a casserole.’ It saddens me. Jon Stewart, who I love and admire, is closing himself off to one of the essential joys of the human experience; one of the world’s culinary treasures. I’d bake him a stuffed crust pizza myself, if only he could be persuaded to come to my home so I could cook it for him.
He’s also wrong about Hawaiian. Deep dish pizza with ham and pineapple–the sweetness of the fruit setting off the tartness of the sauce–is another treasure. But Jon may be confused. He called ham and pineapple ‘California’ pizza. And California does indeed do terrible things to pizza. Close to my home is a California Pizza Kitchen, part of that chain. They sell many many varieties of pizza there, all of them, without exception, completely inedible. It amazes me–I’ve seen people go in there, sit down, and pay good cash money for pizza that tastes like someone poured catsup on a soda cracker. Of their own free will and choice!?!?!? Sometimes I don’t understand people.
So I get it, and I agree there are some things civilized human beings simply must never do. Put chicken on pizza, for example. Or buy Little Caesars on the way home from work. Or Dominos. (Pizza Hut and Pizzaria 712 are the only home delivery options worth eating in Provo). Brick Oven makes an okay pizza in Provo, though I’m not a huge fan of their crust. But ham and pineapple is terrific. And stuffed crust is the best. The best. Ever.
And when in New York, sort of as part of your overall cultural experience, a New York flat pizza can be choked down without too much difficulty. It goes 1) stuffed; 2) deep dish Hawaiian; 3) other deep dish; 4) commercial delivery pizza, 5) New York pizza, 6) every other kind of pizza imaginable; 7) cardboard, covered with Heinz; 8) California Pizza Kitchen.
And yes, I’ve had Italian pizza, in Italy. It’s basically flavored bread.