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TJAM Watches the Daily Show with Jon Stewart

Michaela's picture


9:38 PM

Interior, relatively modest suburban home

Kitchen and small connecting TV corner

Windows around the room reveal that it is dark outside, interior lighting from overhead bulbs


TOM–late fifties, father of Abby and Michaela, tall (6’4”), short blond hair, bearded

JOCELYN–mid-fifties, mother of Abby and Michaela, average height (5’6 ½”, she insists), wavy dark brown hair cut short

ABBY–early twenties, brown glasses, hair and eyes, tall (5’9”), perhaps home for the evening for dinner before returning to her group house downtown

MICHAELA–late teens, brown eyes like Jocelyn and Abby’s, light brown hair, 5’9” (just as tall as Abby!), perhaps home from Bryn Mawr on a school break



The house is quiet except for the sounds of green beans searing in the frying pan, and an opening and closing of the refrigerator door, and perhaps a conversation between ABBY and MICHAELA. It is likely interrupted, though, by both texting and using their computers.

JOCELYN (entering from the front door, not shown): Sorry, sorry–I had to finish a document, and then they were single-tracking the Metro. Ugh!  (Gives ABBY and MICHAELA, seated on the couch, each a kiss on the forehead, then picks up the dog begging at her feet for attention)

TOM (standing in the kitchen serving dinner): It’s no problem–I just got done with dinner.

JOCELYN: How was everyone’s day?

(A chorus of ‘good’, ‘fine’, and perhaps an anecdote or two from TJAM. MICHAELA will remember, at a lag in the conversation, that there is an episode of The Daily Show in the DVR from the night before).

MICHAELA: Daily Show?

TOM: Sure, why don’t you cue it up?

(MICHAELA will think about trying, yet again, to teach JOCELYN to turn on the TV, but knows it will be a feeble attempt, and so will just do it herself)

(Once everyone has a plate of food, they will sit, three on the couch, one on a stool (usually TOM), and dig in silently until MICHAELA fumbles for the remote again and presses play).

ANNOUNCER: From Comedy Central’s World News Headquarters in New York: this is the Daily Show with Jon Stewart! (Theme music plays)

TJAM sit silently, clinking forks against plates, reverently waiting on Jon Stewart to bring the pithy, dry wit. This, and a firm commitment to a liberal political ideology is practically a religion to this fairly non-religious family.

He begins to speak, and still, TJAM do not.

Jon Stewart will start a bit, and as it builds to its pinnacle of humor, JOCELYN will start to laugh, very hard. It will start out only as a look, so you have to be watching her to notice it. Her eyes will crinkle, her dimples (a set which match her younger daughter’s) will begin to fold on her face, and then, out of the silence, a single chortle will emerge. From this, a stream of laughter comes tumbling out, not stopping for at least a minute. ABBY and MICHAELA will exchange a smile at this, their mother’s true display of enjoyment, and begin to laugh themselves.

At the first commercial break, TOM will get up to refill plates with green beans, make a remark about the stories that have been commented on so far, and then ask ABBY to fast forward the recording to skip the commercials.

The show will continue in this manner, with more chortles from the family, and Jocelyn breaking into her big, honest laugh, MICHAELA’s favorite. Jon Stewart will pause to allow the audience to get the joke, and it will be TJAM’s turn to break the silence with their appreciative laughter. The end credits roll. Sometimes, TJAM will agree to watch an episode of The Colbert Report to finish the evening off, but, more likely than not, after a long day, TOM and JOCELYN will decide to go off to bed, leaving ABBY and MICHAELA to watch something and chat on their own until ABBY falls asleep on the couch.


            I wrote this short play, if you will, as a dramatization of a culture of silence that I am very accustomed to, one that occurs within my own family. Much of what we have been discussing in class has focused on the silence of larger groups of people (i.e. native tribes in Guatemala, Deaf communities, prisoners), or the silencing that occurs by the hand of a more dominant group coming down on a weaker one.  I’ve really appreciated being exposed to these powerful stories and having the opportunity to discuss the cultures of silence and being silenced in the communities that we as a class are coming from, together and individually.

            I’ve found that a lot of what I’ve been going through personally in this class (and my thoughts that I have about the experience while not in class) is related to coming to terms with my own privilege. I am from an intellectual, upper middle class white family, and I do feel guilt at that. But, within the confines of my privilege, I was interested in exploring what it looks like when my family (TJAM) sits down to be silent together. We are a family of talkers, for the most part; people who like to fill silences in conversation with both our own words and encouragement for others to speak theirs. So for us to be collectively silent at something, it takes intense interest and concentration on the subject (which, I realize, is in and of itself a marker of privilege centered around our intellectualism). I thought about what that looks like, and, however silly or frivolous it may seem, my family really does take watching The Daily Show very seriously, both as entertainment and as a time that we can spend together as a family. The play starts at 9:38 PM, which is a random but not uncommon time that the last member of my nuclear family might arrive home for the evening, and we would start eating dinner. While we do place value in talking to one another, watching The Daily Show is a time where, while we are not silenced, we take pleasure in bonding through our self-imposed quiet and rapt attention to Jon Stewart. 



Anne Dalke's picture


I'm thoroughly enjoying all the dramatizations that have been offered in this round of web events, and expect you might like to check out some others, such as Sasha's description of a debate between a father and daughter about Art?  and sdane's of a group of friends keeping company (and silence) together.

What interests me here is, first, your decision to present a family (your family) as a "culture" (what constitutes a culture, anyway? anthropologically or sociologically?)--and in particular as a "culture of silence." Doing so gives a concrete particularity to what otherwise might have been too large a generalization--so thank you for that decision! What's also striking in your presentation of what happens "when your family sits down to be silent together" is both (as you say) the "intense interest and concentration" which it takes for you all "to be collectively silent at something," and the way in which your "self-imposed quiet and rapt attention" are a form of bonding. We haven't really explored that dimension of silence in class, have we?-- the pleasure of a shared silent activity (or non-activity) among those who know and love one another. No need to talk, because so much is understood.


What this means is that you have added substantially thereby to the spectrum of silences you have already described. I'm thinking here about the connections between this drama and your second webevent, on respectful self-silencing --as well as your first one, on the complexities of a silent protest in which you both silenced yourselves, in solidarity, and were silenced as a form of control. 

What I want to ask about, though, is the way in which your commentary on this scene highlights it as a demonstration of "privilege centered around our intellectualism." Can you say more about that? Are you gesturing towards something about  how being educated allows for a certain luxury of being silent together, that might not be available to…whom? Those without the "leisure" to gather for dinner @ 9:38 on a weeknight?

I also note, btw, that your visual shows Jon Stewart (sillily?) silencing himself (?).