When Jon Stewart’s Black Impersonation Crossed The Line For ‘Daily Show’ Scribe Wyatt Cenac

wyatt cenac

On a recent episode of WTF With Marc Maron, former Daily Show writer Wyatt Cenac recalled a moment when host Jon Stewart exploded at him in front of the entire late night show’s staff. It all pertained to Stewart’s imitation of 2012 Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain; an impersonation that just went too far for Cenac. At the time prior to the 2012 presidential election, Cenac was the only black writer and found Stewart’s knock on Cain coming from “kind of an ignorant place.”

Fox News was already on Stewart’s case over the offensive impression. In response, Stewart was planning a segment entitled “everything I do is racist.” When Cenac heard this, he raised his objection over the whole bit in an email to the Daily Show staff.

“I was the one black writer there. It was this thing where it’s like, when you’re the one — whether you want to or not — you’re speaking for everybody. I felt like I had to speak for all the minorities, because there’s nobody speaking for them,” Cenac told Maron.

When Cenac emphasized his reservations again during a writers meeting, Stewart blew his lid:

“He 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.’ … And then he got upset. 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. I didn’t know if I had been fired,” remembered Cenac.

Following the incident, Cenac had an emotional breakdown.

Added Cenac, “I represent my people, and I try to represent them the best that I can. I gotta be honest if something seems questionable, because if not, then I don’t want to be in a position where I am being untrue not just to myself but to my culture, because that’s exploitative.”

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84 Comments

  1. Anonymouson Jul 23, 2015 9:24 pm

    Stewart sounds like a dick.

    • Black Adamon Jul 23, 2015 10:10 pm

      No. It sounds more like he was offended at the idea of being called a racist. I can’t fault him for that.

      • dkayon Jul 24, 2015 10:58 am

        Because someone as enlightened as Stewart can’t possibly be. Right.

        • rushncapon Jul 27, 2015 9:32 pm

          No, because he isn’t.

      • vin ceon Jul 24, 2015 11:35 am

        He is a racist

      • carbaron Jul 24, 2015 11:50 am

        I didn’t get from story he was calling Jon a racist as much as telling him he was crossing into a racist line. That’s 2 diff things.

        Furthermore, I question why Jon didn’t ask Cenac what he meant by saying he crossed the line? Most folk who are so-called friends would ask why a statement was made. Jon didn’t per article, which leads me to conclude he didn’t like being criticized period!

        I personally don’t think he’s a racist and if he was – so what? He has 0 direct contact w/ my life.

        • Anonymouson Jul 24, 2015 3:18 pm

          Power corrupts…

        • Evillincolnon Jul 28, 2015 1:47 pm

          It’s people like you that’s part of the problem. Non action is the purest form of aiding & abiding. If he is racist, you shouldn’t support him unless racism is cool & dandy in your book because if you say nothing or don’t care as you clearly do, the problem persists.

          • carbaron Jul 30, 2015 1:41 pm

            WTH are u responding to? I’m part of the problem & non-action rhetoric? Obviously u either didn’t comprehend my post or responded to mine in error

      • Debbie Watercarrier Shutzon Aug 7, 2015 3:06 pm

        The leftist with an all-white staff is upset at being called a racist. What’s next, Trump getting miffed at someone calling him rich?

    • blizon Aug 6, 2015 7:19 am

      Stewart has done stereotypical voices of WASPs jews, italians, arabs, and mexicans….cenac is just a lityle whiny bitch…if i were stewart, a life long comedian who doesnt have a racist bone in his body and has friends of all stripes that are mutual comedians that respect and do what stewart does too, and being the boss of a multi million dollar critically praised tv show thats been validated by society as progressively important, then i’d be yelling my head off at some new over sensitive hipster black dude…and cenac wasnt funny at all…perhaps one of the most forgettable stints there…itd be interesting to see what micheal che and jessica williams think.of stewart, and theyre waaaay funnier than cenac..even noah as new host now…al madrigal, aasif mandvi, and so many more diverse correspondants that have a platform and are in on the joke and satire….i cant believe cenac would do that…his career has gone nowhere since daily show so i think he was let go or pushed out for not being funny writer and wasnt cooperative so he holds a grudge and made up this drama…framws it like he was bullied and crying in a park like some entitled child…what we got here is personal grudge, race exceptionalism, and lackof comedy fortitude to be in on the joke….

  2. Chelainon Jul 23, 2015 9:38 pm

    Are we supposed to care about this overly sensitive ‘writer’? Ok, he’s had his 15 minutes, now he can shut the f*** up. It must be horrible carrying the weight of the entire black community on your shoulders. As a black woman, dude, I don’t need you to look out for me. Get a grip…..and, a job that won’t hurt your ‘feelings’.

    • Anonymouson Jul 23, 2015 9:48 pm

      200 years ago, you would’ve had the pleasure of living in the big house. Can’t get too uppity?

      • carbaron Jul 24, 2015 11:03 am

        And the one sitting on the porch when Tubman was trying to make her’s free! LOL & SMH

    • A's Smarter Brotheron Jul 23, 2015 9:57 pm

      Wow, such vitriol. You sure he’s the one who’s overly sensitive?

    • Sailboat Jetskion Jul 23, 2015 10:19 pm

      So… do you not know who Wyatt Cenac is, or are you just putting ‘writer’ in quotes and referring to this as his 15 minutes for no reason?

    • joshreaderon Jul 23, 2015 10:19 pm

      I agree that Cenac is oversensitive (a lot of artists are). But I also think that Stewart is a bit of a dick (a lot of artists are). So one can understand why there was friction there. I admire both men though (even though I’m not sure I’d like to work with either).

    • Shavonon Jul 23, 2015 10:26 pm

      As a fellow black lady, I disagree. He wasn’t carrying the mantle of all black culture; instead, he was a writer offering his input on the writing. Sounds like a hostile work environment where he got punished for doing his job. Can’t imagine what Stewart would sound like in a rage, but it’s probably not fun. With Jon’s retirement, this is perfect timing for Wyatt to get another 15 minutes… Probably more like 5 though.

    • JustAddinon Jul 24, 2015 9:27 am

      Perhaps, you’d rather that Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Thurgood Marshall and other civil rights activists hadn’t “looked out” for you, either?

      Without them, I wonder where you would be now. On second thought, I don’t.

      • JustAddinon Jul 24, 2015 9:27 am

        *Luther* Oops. Sorry about that typo.

    • carbaron Jul 24, 2015 11:01 am

      As a black woman myself, I saw no problem w/ Cenac saying what’s printed here. I like Stewart, however, he is not above folk saying how they feel to an action he did.

      Stewart’s response is odd, and if you’re really a BW, you’re the type that causes history to repeat itself.

      Furthermore, based on what’s printed here, Stewarts response shouldn’t have led to dude’s having an emotional meltdown either. Article doesn’t state if he was fired or what type of breakdown either. Hmmm.

  3. Anonon Jul 23, 2015 9:47 pm

    “In May 2014, Cenac sparked controversy during an appearance on This American Life by joking about the speech patterns of people with Down syndrome.”

    Guess it’s okay to make fun of people who have trouble representing their group.

    • Anonymouson Jul 24, 2015 10:12 am

      Great point I didn’t know that happened

    • carbaron Jul 24, 2015 11:07 am

      Now that he shouldn’t have done. Was unaware he had done this. But his wrong don’t make Stewart’s right either.

    • J.U.S.on Jul 24, 2015 10:08 pm

      At least he didn’t make fun of white people with Down Syndrome or he’d be a racist.

  4. Shdjon Jul 23, 2015 10:03 pm

    Wow. Being a writer is still a job. Sounds like he is just over sensitive and mad because Jon wasn’t his friend but his boss. Newsflash: being a writer is still a job and your not always friends with your boss.

    • carbaron Jul 24, 2015 11:10 am

      Geez, you really missed the entire point. And BTW, a writers room is where concerns are fleshed out regarding a scene/story.

      • Sheilabyon Jul 26, 2015 12:54 pm

        No, actually. She didn’t miss the point. I’ve worked with people who want to have a special relationship with their boss because they have misplaced parental issues and they will start confrontations to get attention because even negative attention is better than being ignored. Sounds like this is exactly what Wyatt did. He saw an opening to start some shit and did. Then waits 4 years to tell his story, which just happens to be timed when Jon is retiring so he can make it all about him. He’s a child.

        • carbaron Jul 26, 2015 1:54 pm

          I bet u believe & have convinced yourself you’re right about Wyatt w/ this pysch babble stuff despite not knowing him based on prev work co-workers desires to hang w/ boss & have parent issues. OMG 2 Thee! Your logic is so flawed.

          1. Why did he just now speak on it = no idea to his motive.
          2. Child or not, he’s entitled to speak on his experience w/ Jon
          3. Lawd Ham Mercy I wish a boss spoke 2 me as he describes Jon spoke 2 him. Ticked he allowed Jon to disrespect him w/out recourse. I’m a female, but Jon would’ve went down that day talking 2 me all crazy as Wyatt describes
          4. Jon hasn’t denied incident I’ve seen ye5. Hmmm?

          • rushncapon Jul 27, 2015 7:44 pm

            You’re a self-parody, carbar.

  5. My liberal heart is broken.on Jul 23, 2015 10:09 pm

    *gasp* Jon Stewart ISN’T God?!

    Clutch the pearls!

  6. tevinon Jul 23, 2015 10:27 pm

    Toughen up cupcake

  7. anoneemouseon Jul 23, 2015 10:29 pm

    Cenac also had a run in with Norm MacDonald – another guy who is regarded as extremely nice. Maybe the problem lies with Cenac? Sounds like the guy is just walking around with a chip on his shoulder.

    • JtotheKon Jul 23, 2015 11:34 pm

      “Extremely nice?” Sorry but you’re have no idea what you’re talking about. Stewart, while brilliant, is notorious as a boss who screams at his writers constantly. Everyone who works for him is terrified of him. What’s more, he’s a hypocrite who fought against his writers joining the WGA. As for MacDonald, he’s terribly funny, but also a deeply dysfunctional person with gambling issues, no ability to make human connections, and a deeply cruel sense of humor. Basically, you don’t want to meet your heroes.

      • Seremelaon Jul 24, 2015 4:05 am

        I have no idea if Stewart is nice, I don’t know him personally. Although I don’t know why people keep working for him as long as they do if he is as terrible as you say he is. But I do know the whole story of him fighting against his writers joining the WGA came from one source and was easily debunked just by some googling.

        Sorry, no idea who MacDonald is.

      • JustAddinon Jul 24, 2015 9:42 am

        Your comment just brought to my mind the film “The King of Comedy”. Your final statement is so true. I recall meeting Russell Crowe for the first time at the premiere of “The Sum of Us”, after being impressed with his performances in the Australian films “Romper Stomper”, “Proof” and “The Crossing”. He was on the verge of making his mark in Hollywood, but he was already an ass. I was instantly disappointed and disillusioned and soon lost interest in the actor altogether.

      • Paimanon Jul 24, 2015 9:42 am

        I’d rather get screamed at by someone as gifted as Jon Stewart than some of the talentless dicks I’ve worked for…

      • LtotheMon Jul 24, 2015 10:16 pm

        Off topic, Commenter JtotheK. Try to focus.

        • rushncapon Jul 27, 2015 7:46 pm

          JustAddin wondered off looking for a broom to sweep up all the names he dropped.

    • GoingHopson Jul 24, 2015 5:45 am

      Jon Stewart has NEVER be regarded as “extremely nice.” You must not work in this business.

      • rushncapon Jul 27, 2015 7:49 pm

        Yeah, the great ones are rarely “extremely nice”. Jordan wasn’t. Neither was Gates. Or Jobs. Or Einstein. Or Newton. I could keep going. Those who are great don’t usually have time for niceness. They’re too busy creating.

        Oh, and I’m sure Wilmore and Black and Carell and Colbert and Corddry and Helms and Jones etc etc etc all mind terribly that such an awful person launched their fantastic careers.

    • carbaron Jul 24, 2015 11:12 am

      2 run-ins = a chip to you? Wow.

  8. We'll Do it Live!on Jul 23, 2015 10:40 pm

    I think a book came out around last year documenting Stewart’s sometimes volcanic temper. Most of us have our blow-ups, you can still think he’s a great person. What’s annoying is some people (e.g., Chelain) will immediately try to justify the behavior, which, of course, is what people do with their idols. When O’Reilly goes crazy, apologists will insist he had a good reason.

  9. Brianon Jul 23, 2015 10:49 pm

    I don’t understand this worshipping of John Stewart. It just doesn’t make sense. He’s always been so smug and arrogant. How dare you question a bit I wanna do! Ridiculous. Go watch the daily show, then watch John Oliver. It’s not close. Oliver is way better than Stewart ever was. Glad he’s going

    • Paul928on Jul 24, 2015 5:02 am

      If you don’t like Stewart, you don’t watch Stewart. You’re glad he’s going because you don’t like him? Nothing else for you to watch between 11 and 11:30, I guess. You’re an odd fellow. It’s called “appreciation”, not worship. I appreciate Stewart’s hilarious arrogance and smugness, it adds to my (and many others) appreciation. Peculiar that someone that purports to enjoy John Oliver, can’t grasp that obvious tidbit.

      • tinkerbellon Jul 24, 2015 10:01 am

        The fact that you admit to appreciating arrogance and smugness says a lot about you.

        • Paul928on Jul 24, 2015 11:26 am

          Why thank-you. I do like my comedy to have a tinge of arrogance and smugness. As a matter of fact, most comedians have it.
          But your sound bite was silly. It actually says more about you and your inability to articulate your thoughts.
          Soooo…How was that for arrogant and smug?

  10. Jay (@jaymez33)on Jul 24, 2015 4:48 am

    Sounds like Cenac was just being an overly sensitive baby about this whole thing. Stewart’s one of the least racist people on tv

  11. B. Thomason Jul 24, 2015 7:09 am

    Smug arrogance is awesome–as long as people own it and never apologize. I doubt this writers’ room fight is uncommon.

  12. Bonchon Jul 24, 2015 9:14 am

    Who’s Wyatt Cenac?

  13. CustomCoder (@customwww)on Jul 24, 2015 9:54 am

    Stewart.. He has always been racist.. look bak when he first got started.. if U can find any of tht tape.. I could not believe some of the stuff he was saying and getting by with it.. whts real funny.. the left just luv him.. thats the real joke..

  14. profnickd1967on Jul 24, 2015 9:58 am

    Could care less about any of these progressive twats.

    • Bartles N. Jaymeson Jul 24, 2015 1:28 pm

      And yet, you commented. Huh.

  15. Joe Jackon Jul 24, 2015 10:04 am

    I worked with Wyatt for years. Solid dude. In his account, he didn’t even want to offer an opinion, until Stewart dragged it out of him by accusing him of having “a tone” in his voice. Stewart’s a dick who can’t take the criticism that he demands his underlings share with him. Sounds like a nightmare boss.

    Jon Stewart, on the other hand, I have no respect for. He’s a “champion” for liberal causes until it affects him. During the Writers’ Strike, he very openly scabbed, writing prepared comedy pieces instead of just interviewing people, like Conan did. Watch the strike shows. Prepared jokes, prepared graphics, etc. Even the reviled Jay Leno didn’t scab as much as Stewart did.

    Showbiz is tough racket, and to get to the top, you often have to transform into a monster. Stewart’s just another example. Sure he’s got “good” political views, but he’s also got a dark side. That makes him complicated. But we don’t like complicated narratives. We like simple ones. It’s easier to see Stewart as a “saint.” And Cosby, until recently, as “America’s Dad.” Until there was just too much evidence to ignore.

    • dkayon Jul 24, 2015 11:01 am

      This.

  16. Cheapoon Jul 24, 2015 10:13 am

    Wow, what ever happened to “what happens in the room…” It’s a Comedy writers room, really deeply horribly offensive things are going to be said when fleshing out a bit, if that bothers you than you are in the wrong business.

    • JtotheKon Jul 24, 2015 2:48 pm

      This wasn’t some riff in the room. This was a fully developed bit Stewart did on the air, in more than one segment, if I recall. The voice he did was such a racist caricature that he was practically in blackface. What’s more, there was no reason to do that voice. Cain’s views were insane enough that mocking them in them in that voice was pointless and gratuitous.

      • Anonymouson Jul 25, 2015 3:28 pm

        Was Stewart’s imitation of Cain accurate or not? When he imitates Southern white politicians with a broad Southern accent is that also offensive?

      • Anime Me!on Aug 6, 2015 3:24 pm

        You can’t have it both ways. This is not the first impersonation he’s ever done that mocks someone. I do believe Jon has a different side to him…news flash…WE ALL DO. What we see on-air is the culmination of a stressful week of meetings and arguing what’s “good”.

  17. Deanon Jul 24, 2015 10:54 am

    So comedy is funny when it generalizes and lampoons groups other than your own? You get to dictate the place that comes from and join in the fun in that case. But, of course, not your group. Your group is off limits. The lesson here is that we now know why Wyatt Cenac is not funny. He doesn’t understand comedy.

    • Anonymouson Jul 25, 2015 4:40 am

      Exactly. How many time has Jon Stewart done accents of leaders and groups of people (jewish people included). I could seriously see the skit in question being done about G.W. Bush with an accent and no one bating a fucking eye.

  18. Maxineon Jul 24, 2015 11:30 am

    Oh gee…Jon Stewart is a know-it-all blowhard who can’t take feedback that isn’t glowing and full of praise? Shocker!

  19. Brian Stockon Jul 24, 2015 11:34 am

    Cenac had the career opportunity of a lifetime and blew it. Now he hosts a standup comedy show, one night a week, in a hotel in Brooklyn, according to his own website. Stewart may be a difficult boss but who of us has not had to take s##t from one of those when we were trying to get ahead?

    • carbaron Jul 24, 2015 12:11 pm

      Giving sh*t can only be done to those who’ll eat it. Those kind of bosses know who to do cursing etc to and who not to. There’s no justification to mistreat any employee, no matter what position a person’s in.

      I wish a boss would curse at me like that. They bet not even think about it with me.

  20. True Storyon Jul 24, 2015 11:42 am

    Heroes are dropping like flies.

  21. Boohooon Jul 24, 2015 5:23 pm

    Why it, Wyatt? This podcast would have never made a blip unless he mentioned Jon Stewart. Poor, poor Wyatt, the man done you wrong. Such a victim.

  22. Dirk Richard (@DirktheDuck)on Jul 24, 2015 10:47 pm

    Stewart’s an arrogant ass. What he did was racist…he’s an arrogant elitist ultra liberal…he think’s he can’t possibly be a racist and anyone calling him out for his bigotry has to be a racist themselves…that’s the elitist bigot in him.

  23. Jayon Jul 25, 2015 2:06 am

    I don’t feel bad for Cenac. Stewart has more skin in the game then anyone on that show. It’s his legacy. This story should have been kept under his hat. Who would work with this guy after reading this?

    • MikeAon Aug 6, 2015 9:48 am

      I saw one of Stewarts black impersonation years ago. My impression was that Stewart knew nothing about blacks except what he saw on TV. He was channeling George Jefferson, and George Jefferson was a white man’s caricature of a black man. Stewarts impersonation was not only off from the TV caricature but it was insulting. I never watched that dude from that day on. Cenac saw the same thing I did years ago before the daily show.

  24. Anonymouson Jul 25, 2015 4:14 am

    Maybe, just maybe this is just one perspective on the chain of events. There could be a lot of contextual information that wyatt cenac is withholding or overlooking to paint a certain picture.

  25. Anonymouson Jul 25, 2015 7:36 am

    You mean yet another liberal lives by the old adage, “Do as we say, not as we do?” Go figure.

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