Jon Stewart is an American treasure beloved by millions, but Wyatt Cenac thinks of the exiting Daily Show host as little more than a bully. Cenac, who spent four years as a writer and on-air correspondent for the popular fake news broadcast, told a revealing anecdote on The Marc Maron Show on Thursday, saying that Stewart told him to "f*** off" when Cenac challenged him about race.
It all went down in 2011, when Stewart's bit on presidential candidate Herman Cain, in which he mimicked Cain's voice in a manner that would make the racially-sensitive cringe, was criticized on Fox News for its inherent racism.
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When Stewart wanted to retaliate against the criticism with an "Everything I Do Is Racist" bit, Cenac — the only Black writer at the Daily Show at the time — voiced his concerns. "I've got to be honest, and I just spoke from my place," Cenac recalled. "I wasn’t here when it all happened. I was in a hotel. And I cringed a little bit. It bothered me."
The host's reaction was not what Cenac expected. "[Stewart] got incredibly defensive," Cenac said. "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 [from Amos & Andy].' 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."
The incident shook up Cenac so much, he had to hide out at a nearby baseball field until he could collect himself. "I was shaking, and I just sat there by myself on the bleachers and fucking cried. And it’s a sad thing. That’s how I feel. That’s how I feel in this job. I feel alone," he said.
Cenac summed up the story with some thoughts that people of color everywhere can likely relate to. "Something like this, I represent my community, I represent my people, and I try to represent them the best that I can," he says. "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. I’m just allowing something to continue if I’m just going to go along with it. And sadly, I think that’s the burden a lot of people have to have when you are 'the one.' You represent something bigger than yourself whether you want to or not."
(Photos from left: Jemal Countess/Getty Images, Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images for Comedy Central)