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Wyatt Cenac: When I Criticized Jon Stewart About Race, He Told Me to “F–k Off”    

Wyatt Cenac and Jon Stewart at the 2012 Comedy Awards.
Wyatt Cenac and Jon Stewart at the 2012 Comedy Awards.

Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images

On the newest episode of Marc Maron’s WTF podcast, former Daily Show correspondent and writer Wyatt Cenac opened up about why he’s having trouble feeling nostalgic about the end of Jon Stewart’s run as the host of The Daily Show. As Cenac explained during the lengthy interview, he and Stewart had a strained relationship that grew increasingly tempestuous during his nearly five years on the show, and it ended with Cenac quitting.

Specifically, Cenac recalled one protracted disagreement that ended in Stewart screaming at him. Stewart had done a Herman Cain impression that Fox News began attacking as racist. The impression bothered Cenac, too—he had been away when Stewart performed the bit—but Stewart wanted to respond with a dismissive segment that belittled the criticism by saying, basically, that he was an equal-opportunity offender who used insensitive caricatures for all sorts of races and ethnicities. Cenac told Maron he repeatedly voiced his dislike for the idea as it was suggested and developed, and eventually confronted Stewart himself. “Are you sure you want to do this?” Cenac asked.

“He got incredibly defensive, and I remember he was like, ‘What are you trying to say? There’s a tone in your voice,’ ” Cenac told Maron. Cenac told Stewart that the impression had bothered him, and that to him it sounded like the racist caricature Kingfish from Amos ’n’ Andy. At that point, Cenac says, Stewart erupted at him, yelling, “Fuck off. I’m done with you.”

“I was the one black writer there,” Cenac recalled. “When you’re the one—whether you want to or not—you wind up speaking for everybody.”

The argument was so intense that afterwards, Cenac remembers, he was told that some dogs that were in the office that day and could hear the argument were shaking. Stewart apologized to the staff, but Cenac was devastated. He stayed on for another tense year as a correspondent, but then he quit. The two have patched things up via email since then (we’ve reached out to Stewart for comment and will update if we hear back), and Stewart invited Cenac to the final taping. But Cenac told Maron, “I still don’t know if I’m going to show up.”

Read more in Slate about Jon Stewart: