By: Laura Antonucci, Columnist
“Angry optimist” sounds like a contradiction in terms – an oxymoron of epic proportions. However, in the case of the book’s subject, it makes perfect sense. “Angry Optimist: The Life and Times of Jon Stewart” by Lisa Rogak is a detailed look at the late-night talk show host who carved out his own niche in the satire spectrum.
Everyone knows who Jon Stewart is, especially in light of his recent decision to leave “The Daily Show.” Everyone is aware of his current reach of influence and the actors, like Steve Carell, that have been able to use “The Daily Show” as an effective stepping-stone to stardom. What is not as commonly known is where “The Daily Show” and its host came from.
Lisa Rogak begins, logically, at the beginning of Stewart’s life before looking forward. She establishes Stewart’s life timeline as a series of stops, starts and flashbacks to explain his Eastern European heritage. Finally, she establishes a linear timeline, taking the reader through Stewart’s early, young and college life. All of the background information is absolutely necessary in fleshing out the progressions and development of Stewart’s brand of humor.
However, the biography does read like a 225-page newspaper interview with minimal contact of Stewart himself. Rogak presents an idea or talking point, has a quote from someone in the Jon Stewart stratosphere to support that statement, then Rogak simplistically develops that idea before moving on to the next topic.
While Stewart is quoted frequently, there is a strong feeling of detachment. “Angry Optimist” reads like a slide show with short quips of commentary rather than an in-depth biography. There is a need for a one-on-one interview, and that never happens. Where the reader wants to hear Stewart himself describe an average production day, for example, there is a summary by Rogak instead. Where there should be adequate quotes from people in “The Daily Show” history, there are short “sound bites” instead. “Angry Optimist” does not have enough information for anyone beyond a casual reader with a middle school education.
“Angry Optimist” is a solid, if simplistic read. It had some interesting information regarding Stewart’s and “The Daily Show’s” beginnings and does provide a cursory glimpse into “the life and times” of Comedy Central’s most self-aware show. A little funny, a little interesting, pretty basic. If you have a Jon Stewart shrine, this book is for you.