Books

The 'Angry Optimist' Is Clearly a Search-Engine Approach to Biography

Put a thousand monkeys in front of a thousand Google searches, and eventually...


Angry Optimist

Publisher: Thomas Dunne
Length: 225 pages
Author: Lisa Rogak
Price: $25.99
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2014-09
Amazon

Wow, this book is lame. I like Jon Stewart as much as anybody – and probably more than many – but I don’t need to read a book that tells me why I should like Jon Stewart. (Hint: He’s really funny! Hilariously so in fact! And also a really nice guy!) I might need to read a book that reveals something of the man himself, a self-deprecating Jewish kid from New Jersey who grew up to become one of the most recognized satirists of our day.

If Angry Optimist revealed something of what drove him to succeed, maybe even culling from an interview or two – okay, maybe not of the man himself, but of someone who knows him, or hell, even knew him – that would be great. Or if not great, then at least it would be a start. It would be something.

Instead, we have Angry Optimist, which is very far indeed from being anything at all. This is nothing more than an assemblage of quotes pulled from a vast array of online and in-print sources, cobbled together to make a chronological narrative. This isn’t a book; it’s a Google search, written down and bound together. Lazy high school students approach term-paper writing the same way.

On top of that, it’s a hagiography masquerading as a biography. Stewart may well be a nice guy who loves his wife, kids and pets, but there's virtually nothing here of any critical nature (apart from a few quotes from disgruntled ex-staffers, collected into the one chapter that is coincidentally or not the most interesting material here). The adulation begins early on, when Internet-quote-compiler – uh, I mean author – Lisa Rogak informs us that “the inescapable truth is that Stewart is so damn funny that even the targets of his often caustic observations appreciate his jokes and even laugh at their own foibles as expressed through his eyes.” Um, well, maybe, although Rogak provides no support for such a blanket assertion.

Soon after, we’re told that “Stewart couldn’t stop being funny if he tried” and that “he’s certainly found the perfect forum sitting behind The Daily Show newsdesk.” Fair enough; we knew he was funny, that’s why he has his own televised comedy show. Astute readers, however, will pick up on the fact that we’re still reading the introduction – we haven’t even made it to Chapter One yet – and the tone for the rest of the book has been thoroughly established.

For readers ignorant of Stewart’s life story (cough cough) the general outline of his rise will be new enough: his childhood in New Jersey; college years at William and Mary, where the sports-obsessed Stewart played collegiate soccer, a sport that didn’t care about his relatively short stature; his early years as a comic in New York; the breaks that eventually got him his own short-lived show on MTV; and, subsequently, enough film and TV appearances to lead to the desk job on The Daily Show. It’s all there, and presumably it’s all correct enough, because, um – information on the Internet is always right. Right?

The problem here isn’t so much with the information presented, as with the way it’s presented, which veers between the breathless adulation mentioned above, to a kind of stream-of-conscious blitz of facts. This is what happens, I think, when a Google search reveals thousands of interesting but tiny nuggets of information: in stringing them all together, Rogak pays a great deal of attention to including each one, but considerably less in weaving them into an engaging whole. Sometimes she doesn’t even pay attention to the facts, as she repeats quotes and phrases more than once, which is distracting, to say the least.

Despite all the above, this is probably just the perfect book for a certain type of reader / Jon Stewart fan. The short chapters go down easy, and there’s very little to cause a furrowed brow or “Huh?” moment. As mentioned earlier, the most interesting chapter here is the one that focuses on the machinations behind The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, taking the reader through a day in the life of the show, which begins with the 7:00AM arrival of the producers and concludes with the post-taping debriefing of all involved. It’s here that a few dissenting voices are allowed to speak their bit – in short, easily digestible sound bites, of course – about Stewart’s shortcomings as a boss. It’s not that I’m waiting for Rogak to dish dirt on the guy, but these comments do provide a bit of a fuller picture of the man than the author’s relentlessly effusive portrayal otherwise allows.

Looking for something mindless to while away a few afternoons on the beach? Here you go. If you’re looking for something substantive about Jon Stewart, you're out of luck, here.

3

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image