Ken Tucker
February 03, 2010 AT 12:00 PM EST

Jon Stewart told Bill O’Reilly on The O’Reilly Factor that the Factor host has “become the sanest voice” on the Fox News Channel, adding, “That’s like being the thinnest kid at fat camp.”

Fending off playful insults by O’Reilly such as “A lotta people don’t think you’re smart,” Stewart was far from combative. He was in self-deprecating mode: “I’m just happy to be playing in the big leagues,” said Stewart, mocking but implicitly acknowledging Fox’s big ratings lead over his Comedy Central perch.

Anyone looking for a brawl here — or even moderately exciting television — would be disappointed. Pressed by O’Reilly to explain what he thinks are President Obama’s strengths and weaknesses, Stewart gave long, nuanced answers; just the kind of stuff that doesn’t go over well on a slam-bang show such as O’Reilly’s. Talking about how Fox “sells the clearest narrative” and that O’Reilly and his boss Roger Ailes’ greatest achievement has been “to mainstream conservative talk radio” was correct, but it didn’t engage O’Reilly.

The “sanest voice” comment early on suggested that Stewart had actually chosen the wrong Fox News show to appear on; the object of his greatest irritation and disbelief these days is Glenn Beck, not O’Reilly.

Stewart chuckled appreciatively when O’Reilly described the Daily Show audience as “stoned slackers who love Obama,” admiring Bill’s comic exaggeration. Since Stewart himself invoked Muhammad Ali — when O’Reilly waved his arm near Stewart’s face, the comedian said, “You’ve got Ali’s reach!” — I’ll put this in boxing terms: Stewart opted for the rope-a-dope and you’d have to give O’Reilly the decision. I can’t even say TKO, because technically, neither laid a glove on the other.

UPDATE: On Thursday night, O’Reilly asked Stewart if he was Jewish and Stewart said, “What gave it away?” Bill asked Jon to be his Vice Presidential running-mate (because they’re both so independent, don’tcha know), but Stewart said he had college pictures of himself that would disqualify him from even so much as “working in a post office.”

In other words, the love-fest just continued.

Did you watch?

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