Story at a glance

  • Comedian Jon Stewart made waves after he appeared to back the controversial COVID-19 lab leak theory during an appearance on "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert" Monday night.
  • Stewart explained to a visibly surprised Colbert the reasoning behind his apparent conclusion with a series of trademark comedic analogies.
  • “‘Oh, my God, there’s been an outbreak of chocolaty goodness near Hershey, Pa. What do you think happened,” Stewart asked.

Comedian Jon Stewart made waves after he appeared to back the controversial COVID-19 lab leak theory during an appearance on "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert" Monday night. 

"I think we owe a great debt of gratitude to science," Stewart told his friend and former colleague. "Science has, in many ways, helped ease the suffering of this pandemic, which was more than likely caused by science."

Stewart explained to a visibly surprised Colbert the reasoning behind his apparent conclusion with a series of trademark comedic analogies. Colbert’s former colleague, for example, seemed to feign his own shock that an outbreak of a novel coronavirus might occur near a lab that studies viruses and proceeded to poke fun at the dominant theory that the virus naturally occurred. 

"'Oh, my God, there’s been an outbreak of chocolaty goodness near Hershey, Pa. What do you think happened?' "Like, 'Oh I don’t know, maybe a steam shovel mated with a cocoa bean?' Or it’s the [expletive] chocolate factory! Maybe that’s it?"

The lab leak theory, which has gained traction in recent weeks, hypothesizes that COVID-19 accidentally leaked from a lab at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Growing circumstantial evidence, including a Wall Street Journal report that three researchers at the Wuhan lab were hospitalized in November 2019, has led President Biden to order a new intelligence investigation into the virus's origins. 


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Stewart’s analysis gained both praise and criticism across the media landscape. Washington Post columnist Paul Waldman wrote in a piece Tuesday morning that Stewart’s opinion offers another reason why Americans should take comedians’ scientific opinions with a grain of salt, arguing that a person might be too encouraged when a celebrity agrees with one of their beliefs. 

"But they’re not experts, and the reason we listen to experts is that they know more than we do," Waldman wrote.

In an analysis, Washington Post reporter Aaron Blake also notes that Stewart’s opinion may be an oversimplification of facts, and the lab in Wuhan specializes in coronaviruses because China has a history of these viruses and virology labs tend to specialize in the viruses around them. 


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Meanwhile, Meghan McCain, news columnist and daughter of the late Republican Sen. John McCain, tweeted that Stewart’s rant was a classic example of what made him a unique and powerful voice as the former host of "The Daily Show." 

“One of the reasons Jon Stewart was so talented is that he spoke truth to power no matter who was in office and was beholden to no party," McCain wrote. "This is how political comedy is done right. No one else on tv does this anymore. No one."

World leaders at the Group of Seven Summit on Sunday called for a "timely, transparent, expert-led, and science-based [World Health Organization]-convened Phase 2 COVID-19 Origins study including, as recommended by the experts’ report, in China."


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Published on Jun 16, 2021