Wyatt Cenac reveals he and Jon Stewart had beef over racially-charged skit

tbs people of earth wyatt cenac
Tribeca/Flickr
Host of the popular WTF podcast, Marc Maron has a knack for getting people to open up in ways that almost no one else can. Give a listen to his interview with President Obama if you want a candid example. More recently, former correspondent for The Daily Show, Wyatt Cenac, appeared on the podcast and revealed that he and long-time host John Stewart weren’t exactly thunder buddies. In fact, they had several heated disagreements, one of which boiled over … big time. Here’s the backstory:

Back in the Summer of 2011, the Republican Primary was in full-swing and Stewart aired a clip of then Presidential Candidate Herman Cain decrying, rather vociferously, the idea of 2000+ page bills in Congress. Instead, Cain said, he’d ensure that bills were closer to three pages so that they were documents you’d have time to read at the dinner table. As the clip ended, Stewart began mimicking the tone and cadence of Cain’s voice, shouting “I am Herman Cain, and I do not like to read!”

On assignment at the time, Cenac remembered feeling uncomfortable as he watched the segment play out. “I don’t think this is from a malicious place, but I think this is from a naïve, ignorant place,” he recalls thinking,  “… you just did this and you didn’t think about it. It was just the voice that came into your head. And so it bugged me.”

Related: Obama to wish Jon Stewart a fond farewell this Tuesday

After the sketch aired, Fox News — often on the business end of Stewart’s jeers and screeds — attacked the host, alleging that he was showing the same sort of racially insensitivity that he had routinely criticized others for.

Not willing to take the attacks lying down, Stewart began planning another sketch, one that would respond to the criticism. But during the writer’s meeting, Cenac spoke up, telling Stewart that he too had been uncomfortable with the sketch and that it reminded him of Amos ‘n’ Andy character Kingfish, echoing (perhaps inadvertently) the sentiment of a Fox News host who had said something very similar.

… and then, Cenac says, things got uncomfortable.

“[Stewart] got incredibly defensive. I remember he was like, ‘What are you trying to say? There’s a tone in your voice.’ I was like, ‘There’s no tone. It bothered me. It sounded like Kingfish.’ And then he got upset. And he stood up and he was just like, ‘Fuck off. I’m done with you.’ And he just started screaming that to me. And he screamed it a few times. ‘Fuck off! I’m done with you.’ And he stormed out. And I didn’t know if I had been fired.”

Vulture reports that the squabbling continued in Stewart’s office, but cooler heads eventually prevailed and Cenac went to get some air and clear his head. He recalls finding a nearby baseball field, where his emotions finally got the better of him. “I was shaking, and I just sat there by myself on the bleachers and fucking cried” he said, adding that he felt “alone” at the job.

Jon Stewart is as beloved a public figure as we have in today’s media, so it’s jarring any time someone has personal issues with the host. Of course, that doesn’t mean that they’re unfounded. Hopefully we’ll get Stewart’s side of the story as well … or maybe it’s better if this just becomes water under the bridge.

For now, there’s no love lost between these two. Cenac was asked pointedly earlier in the interview if he “got along” with Stewart, to which he replied, simply, “naw.”

You can listen to Wyatt Cenac’s full conversation with Marc Maron here and watch Stewart’s response to the Cain voice criticism here.

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