Everything old is new again, at least to Jon Stewart, who returned as host of Comedy Central's "Daily Show" Tuesday night after spending the summer directing a film in Jordan.
Correspondent John Oliver, who filled in for Stewart for eight weeks of the 12-week break, gave his returning friend an on-air rundown of the summer's news, including the current situation in Syria -- which sounded just a tad familiar to the show's longtime host.
"Wow! America taking military action against a Middle East regime? It’s like I never left,” Stewart marveled, leading into a segment featuring presidents delivering various threats against Middle Eastern countries -- and one fictional president from the 1996 movie "Independence Day" threatening aliens. "To be fair, that war was pretty justified," Stewart said of the battle against extraterrestrials.
From then on, the old familiar Stewart satire machine was off and running. He cracked old-style jokes with new twists, saying "Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Syria walk into a bar called 'America Is Not Planning on Bombing You,' and the bartender says, 'Uh, I don't think you should be in here, Syria." He played a clip of Secretary of State John Kerry mentioning "signatures of (chemical weapon) sarin," and turned "Signatures of Sarin" into a perfume title. And he exploded at the "parade of idiots" who have been speaking out about the conflict on cable news, donning a feathered band major's hat and waving a baton while urging the cable guests to "shut the (bleep) up."
Stewart later showed that he hasn't lost his touch for the serious, thought-provoking interview, speaking with Andrew Harper, head of the United Nations Refugee Agency in Jordan, about the two million refugees who have had to flee their homes in Syria. "No one wants to be in a refugee camp," Harper said. He also praised Americans for their generosity, and Stewart encouraged interested viewers to make donations at unrefugees.org.
But back when the show began, Stewart had to be brought back from his leave in a good old-fashioned American way. He started the show bearded and speaking an indecipherable Middle Eastern accent, leaving Oliver to jump in with some meaty medical care.
"Jon's back, but I think the Middle East has changed him," Oliver said. "He's not even acting American. Get a defibrillator and two Big Macs. Let's do this!"
Unfortunately, the McMachine worked a little too well, and Stewart transformed into a redneck. Oliver then had to administer other antidotes, changing Stewart into Moses, a snooty Brit, a Smurf, and even a foam-finger waving Miley Cyrus before buddy and fellow host Stephen Colbert helped him find his true self.
Stewart thanked Oliver for filling in for him, saying, "I knew John Oliver was incredibly talented and would do great. What I didn't know was that John Oliver has dimples you could lose yourself in."
During the summer, Oliver often offered up humorous explanations for Stewart's absence, which "The Daily Show" collected in a video. At various times, Oliver claimed Stewart was learning to cobble shoes in a small Italian village, walking across the Grand Canyon on a tightrope, serving as a nude model for art students at Rutgers, and breaking the world record for smashing watermelons with his head. In one segment, Oliver cracked that Stewart, "due to a comical mixup," was spending the summer hosting "'The Doily Show,' America's greatest satirical lace-centerpiece program."
Stewart actually spent the summer directing "Rosewater," which stars Gael Garcia Bernal and is based on the book "Then They Came For Me," journalist Maziar Bahari's memoir of his 118-day ordeal in Iranian prison.
Tim Carvell, "The Daily Show" head writer, noted earlier in the day that the return of the American Stewart as opposed to the British Oliver posed a special problem, tweeting, "Our regular host is back. Spending the day doing search and replace for 'lorry' and 'truck' in all scripts."