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Commentary: Jon Stewart’s move to directing, hiatus from show a detriment to ‘Daily Show’ fans

Courtesy of MCT

Most years I look forward to the summer months, a time devoid of 8 a.m. classes and endless hours of homework. But this summer I will be missing something I greatly cherish — Jon Stewart’s role as a satirical newscaster on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.”

Beginning in June, the “news” host will take a 12-week hiatus, which he announced Tuesday, to direct the non-comedic drama “Rosewater,” the true story of an imprisoned Iranian journalist, for which Stewart also wrote the screenplay.

I hope fans of Stewart’s political satire will join me in saying, “Please don’t do this, Jon.” Seriously, he’s got a good thing going, having started out as a mediocre stand-up comic and a failed MTV host, and going on to become a cultural icon capable of attracting hundreds of thousands to a rally in the nation’s capital. He shouldn’t ruin that by trying to become something he’s not.

This isn’t the first time a comedian has stepped off the stand-up stage to take a gig with a more serious tone. Adam Sandler took serious roles in cult drama “Punch Drunk Love,” and the pseudo-serious “Spanglish,” although neither film made anything resembling a splash at the box office.

Robin Williams, one of the funniest men who has ever lived, is also noted for taking non-comedic roles. He was nominated for an Oscar for playing an unconventional poetry teacher in “Dead Poet’s Society,” and won Best Supporting Actor for portraying Matt Damon’s mentor in “Good Will Hunting.”

But Stewart is a horse of a different color. First of all, unlike Sandler and Williams, he’s never had more than a bit part in a box office moneymaker. His most successful acting role in film to date is as Sandler’s roommate in “Big Daddy,” for which he appears on screen for about five minutes.

In addition, Stewart’s previous writings hardly impress. While he has penned best-sellers, they’ve all been comedic, and I doubt many buyers came from outside his core constituency of “Daily Show” viewers. “Rosewater” is his first screenplay.

“The Daily Show” host is certainly capable of being insightful and poignant, but it remains to be seen how he will fare when his work is meant to be taken seriously, and must stand on its own.

There isn’t much precedent for the success of comedic actors who take time apart from their hit TV shows to try their hand at writing and directing. Did you see Josh Radnor’s “Liberal Arts?” No one else did either. The film’s theater run earned less than $1 million.

Don’t get me wrong, there have been notable successes. Terry Gilliam, of “Monty Python” fame, went on to direct films such as “Brazil,” “The Fisher King” and “12 Monkeys,” which critics adored. But none were as serious as “Rosewater” is intended to be, and Gilliam didn’t try his hand at directing until the “Monty Python” era was long finished. “The Daily Show” is still in its prime.

I’m certainly not bashing Stewart, I think he does great things on “The Daily Show.” He makes young people more interested in the politics that will shape their lives and uses humor to put things in perspective.

He and fellow faux-newsman Stephen Colbert have proven that jokes can be a powerful tool, can be used to expose hypocrisy and can generate interest in important issues.

So come on, Jon, your show is the most successful news(?) program on television, it’s making you untold amounts of money and turned you into a household name and an important figure in the political world. When you’ve retired from “The Daily Show” and moved on with your life, that will be the time to try writing and directing, but for now, stick to what you’re good at. Don’t condemn us to an entire summer with John Oliver as “The Daily Show’s” eight-week guest host.

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