Let Us Not Forget Jon Stewart's Hair In 'Death to Smoochy'
Death to Smoochy is one of those movies that just won’t go away no matter how close critics and box office returns came to burying the project. In the 2002 black comedy, Danny Devito attempted to spin gold out of a story about a crooked costumed children’s television host who gets replaces by a naive and pure-hearted idealist amongst a swirling intrigue of embezzlement and mafia activity. Despite a star-studded staff that included the likes of Robin Williams, Edward Norton, Catherine Keener, and late night’s own Jon Stewart, the movie was a critical and commercial bomb upon its release in 2002.
Two decades later, the boozy Barney satire enjoys a cult following, and DeVito still believes that, though movie executives “didn’t get” the dark comedy, the film is still deserving of an audience in 2022. He presumably meant to finish that claim with the caveat, “but Jon Stewart’s hair in this is still pretty busted.”
In Death to Smoochy, Stewart plays the role of Marion Frank Stokes, a slimy TV executive in charge of replacing "Rainbow" Randolph Smiley (Robin Williams), a popular kid’s show host who is exposed as a corrupt, alcoholic, and amoral lecher. To visually demonstrate Stokes’ seediness, the hair and makeup department apparently went out and bought two wigs, one a knockoff Beatles mop top and the other the future hair for Coconut Head from Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide, and somehow combined them into an unholy follicular Frankenstein that Stewart forced to wear under penalty of death.
Of all the problems in the film – and there are many problems with this film – Stewart’s hair is decidedly minor, but with the second season of The Problem with Jon Stewart in full swing, it’s worth remembering that the Mark Twain Prize recipient was not always the dignified voice of comedic anger – he was was once an embezzling bowl cut-bearing sleazebag who conspired to kill a guy in pink rhino costume.
In 2011, MTV asked Stewart about the laughable proposition that Death to Smoochy might be in line for a sequel, to which he replied, "I am under the impression, and again I could be wrong about this, that movie sequels are based on the success of the previous movie. Now, I may be wrong!" Said Stewart of his short-lived film career, "I was never a very good actor. I can do myself like 10 percent madder or 10 percent happier. I give props to the craft of acting, 'cause that's not what I do. Or most comedians. Although there are some that are really good at it."
When Stewart learned that Death to Smoochy was being screened to American troops in Iraq, he took the desk of The Daily Show that night and said, “If I had known you were going to use this movie to escape the pressures of fighting for our country, I would have chosen not to suck in it.”
However, Stewart did help Smoochy find some recognition on Oscar night – not as a nominee, obviously – when Stewart hosted the event in 2006. Said Stewart in his introduction, “Tonight is the night we celebrate excellence in film with me, the fourth male lead in Death to Smoochy. Rent it.”
Smoochy never got a sequel, nor did it win any awards, though the late great Robin Williams was nominated for a Razzie for his part in the picture. However, the sleazy, cynical, satirical black comedy endures as a cult classic for fans of black comedy crime films about guys in colorful animal costumes.
Stewart’s wig still gets work as a popular prop for Hollywood hairdresser schools as an example of what happens when you fail their class.