Jon Stewart Forgot That Polish Jokes Began as Nazi Propaganda

Another reason to be mad at Jon Stewart
Jon Stewart Forgot That Polish Jokes Began as Nazi Propaganda

Jon Stewart, aka Bizarro Garfield, continues to host The Daily Show on Mondays only. This week, the embattled comedian began his second episode of 2024 by responding to the controversy surrounding last week’s show, in which he dared to criticize President Joe Biden by airing footage of Biden being the president. Stewart also literally compared Trump’s campaign to the Barbarian invasion of Rome during that same segment, but, sure, he was clearly saying that both sides are “equally bad.”

The bulk of this week’s show was devoted to ridiculing Tucker Carlson’s interview with Vladimir Putin, so pretty much the Daily Show equivalent of unloading a shotgun on a barrelful of fish. Stewart mocked his old adversary’s lack of critical thinking, willingness to parrot Russian propaganda and borderline horniness for basic grocery store technology. One moment that Stewart singled out in particular: When Putin suggested that Poland “forced” Hitler to start World War II and received zero pushback from Carlson. 

“Why would a country whose navy has submarines with screen doors want to instigate a war?” Stewart questioned. After dropping this random, 1950s joke book-tier line, Stewart paused for a “Historical Context” segment. “Quick history lesson,” he told the audience, “years ago, for reasons nobody is really sure of, a stereotype emerged that Polish people were inept in various ways.” He went on to explain that “Polish people are as smart as anyone, and certainly did not deserve to be invaded by the Germans, who of course accomplished that by marching backwards so the Poles thought they were leaving.”

Yeah, he ended the bit with another Polish joke. Stewart admitted that this was the “dumb” portion of the monologue, but it’s arguably a bit worse than that. Contrary to Stewart’s claim that “nobody is really sure of” where jokes about Polish incompetence came from, some have argued that the modern Polish joke can be traced back to the Nazis. As Reader’s Digest notes, “Hitler pushed the racist ‘dumb Polack’ stereotype so the rest of Europe wouldn’t sympathize with the country’s fate.” The Nazis spread false stories of Polish military ineptitude following the invasion, such as how their army tried to attack German tanks with swords and horses. 

That being said, some German-created Polish jokes did exist prior to World War II in “border regions such as Silesia.” And even in the 19th century, “German states had very aggressive anti-Polish policies that went along with their plans to annex Polish territory” which included perpetuating the “image of a dumb Pole whose only ability is to work in the field.” This trend was then “revived when Germany turned into Nazi Germany.”

There’s no concrete evidence that the 20th century’s wave of anti-Polish humor in the U.S. directly grew out of German propaganda, but even in the 1960s, these jokes were still very much tied to lampooning military failures, such as when Laugh-In declared that Poland had “invaded itself.”

So this context seems pretty important. Stewart’s premise may have been a knowing bit of winking-at-the-audience tomfoolery, but the fact that his segment about unchecked dictatorial propaganda paused to rehash historical dictatorial propaganda seems not so great. That would be like performing a monologue about how Taco Bell gives you diarrhea, then taking a moment to extol the virtues of the Dorito Crunchwrap Supreme. 

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