Review: The Angry Optimist – The Life and Times of Jon Stewart by Lisa Rogak


Yes sir!



Angry Optimist: The Life and Times of Jon Stewart

Since his arrival at The Daily Show in 1999, Jon Stewart has become one of the major players in comedy as well as one of the most significant liberal voices in the media. In Angry Optimist, biographer Lisa Rogak charts his unlikely rise to stardom. She follows him from his early days growing up in New Jersey, through his years as a struggling standup comic in New York, and on to the short-lived but acclaimed The Jon Stewart Showhour comedy show that at the time was still finding its footing amidst roiling internal drama.Once there, Stewart transformed The Daily Showbehind the scenes at The Daily Show, led by Jon Stewart, a comedian who has come to wield incredible power in American politics. 

The list of tv things that bring me more joy than Jon Stewart ripping into someone that really really deserves it is pretty short.

If you’re looking for thorough coverage of his childhood and personal life, you may disappointed. The big moments are touched upon – his father leaving, school atmosphere shaping his sense of humor, marriage to wife Tracey and birth of his children – but the majority of the book is spent on his time at The Daily Show. That’s fine, that may be what some people want and it works for this book. Calling it The Life and Times of Jon Stewart may be a bit misleading though.

There’s nothing new in this book. If you know very little of his life and haven’t read any interviews with him, this won’t be an issue for you. I say there’s nothing new because it there’s not much original content in the book. Most of the information, quotes, and history have been pulled from other interviews and articles available online. I don’t begrudge the author the recognition of the time consuming nature of compiling all this and turning it into a cohesive book, I’m simply pointing out there isn’t any new information here that isn’t available elsewhere. Reading an e-version of this book (thanks netgalley!), the book ended at 74% and the rest was notes and attributions.

As a fan of Jon Stewart, I thought it would’ve been beneficial to highlight more of his relationship with his brother throughout their youth. Rogak notes that Stewart said he knew from a young age that he wasn’t going be “the smart one” so he worked to develop a sense of humor. Being funny would be his thing since his older brother would be viewed as the brains of the family. What isn’t mentioned is that this isn’t simply a case of sibling rivalry or sibling comparison, ranking himself against his brother the way the all siblings do at some point. Jon’s brother, Larry Leibowitz, was Chief Operating Officer of NYSE Euronext, parent company of the New York Stock Exchange through November 2013. It’s not simply a case of comparing middle school grades and feeling like the lesser of the two. Stewart grew up next to someone of extraordinary intelligence. As anyone who watches TDS on a regular basis knows, Jon is an extremely intelligent man himself, easily switching from jokes about beer bongs to in-depth discussions on the Middle East with foreign politic leaders.

A large percentage of the book focused on The Daily Show and provided a look at the rigid daily schedule followed by its host and writing staff. Some parts were fun – dogs in the office! – and some seemed a little overdone – enough quotes from ex-workers that didn’t like the environment they worked in at their time at TDS. Stewart comes off as a bit of a control freak during these sections and honestly? I probably would too.  His name is on the marquee. It’s The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Every decision that is made and any failures or bombs will be attributed to him, regardless if he was actually responsible or not. It’s his name in lights and with that comes all the negative sides of fame and the responsibility to make a great product. At the end of the day, doesn’t he have the right to want to make sure each joke is just right before broadcast when he’s the one telling them? When it’s his name, career and success on the line? These quotes mainly came from people that no longer work there. Yes that provides them with the freedom to speak more openly but, since it’s only mentioned once, we have no idea if these people left on good terms or not. One admitted to being fired.  It seems to be human nature to want to blame someone else when we fail at something. We have to consider the fact that these people may hold a grudge or anger at the person in charge.  Or maybe they’re not and he’s a raging asshole to work with. The only ones that know that truth are the ones that work there.

The Daily Show and Jon Stewart personally have had a major effect on news media and pop culture since Stewart took over the show. Young people tune in to a show that focuses on the majority of it’s time on current events and politics. Eighteen year old kids watch a show that talks about Congress four nights a week. When has that ever happened before? It’s an amazing fete, especially this day and age of instant everything, reality shows and focus on meaningless things. His show has had a direct impact on the political involvement of many folks, especially the young ones. There is no one that can deny that, even if you don’t watch.

There were a few points where the book stalled, as if Rogak didn’t have enough material to fill the pages, and this resulted in some repeat information. A few times, exact quotes were repeated in different chapters. I received an advanced copy of this book so it may have been edited out of the final text but several reviews have mentioned it as well.  The lack of direct access to the subject of the biography is obvious at times. There’s no new ground broken with this one. I look forward to the day when Stewart pens a memoir, but given his hermit-like tendencies and his avoidance of the public eye, that may never happen. It would be a shame, he has a brilliant mind.

Jon Stewart – He’s angry but hopeful. The title is perfect for the subject. Anyone who closely watches the events of the world unfold can’t help but be upset at the injustices, sad over the senseless deaths and angry at the petulance of the people tasked to run the joint. Stewart has a pulpit from which to preach and I’ll tune in as long as he does.


Thanks to Netgalley and publishers for the advanced copy for review.



A few of my favorite Stewart quotes. He’s good when he’s funny, he’s better when he’s serious.




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One thought on “Review: The Angry Optimist – The Life and Times of Jon Stewart by Lisa Rogak

  1. therealrene says:

    Follow my Blog? I do reviews on Rock n Roll Autobiographies and True Crime Books

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