Wednesday 10 July 2024

Is It Jon Or Is It Hugh?

I'm assuming you are likely to be familiar with comedian Jon Stewart, who used to present The Daily Show, among a host of other things. He's a very funny guy, with a wryly liberal take on politics, and to many of us in these troubled times, I suspect, he is the voice and face of The Old Sane America. So when I recently came across a series of photographic reviews on YouTube under the title "Three Blind Men and an Elephant" I was amazed. My immediate thought was, I had  no idea Jon Stewart was into photography! And my second thought was, what a hilarious imitation he gives of a ponderously wordy pundit obsessed with impossibly expensive high-end gear. It's even filmed in oh-so-tasteful black and white! Heh...

If you don't know those reviews, follow the link, and I'm sure you'll see what I mean. The giveaway, to my mind – the "tell", if you will – is that characteristic one-sided smirk, the twinkle in the eye, as he suppresses and at the same time signals his own amusement, remaining throughout in character as an ironically self-aware pedant with an over-weighty verbal delivery, as if that other Stewart, Patrick, were giving the full-on Shakespearean treatment to an advert for Pop Tarts... Hold that thought... [1]

I then realised that, as the presenter of these reviews, Jon is occupying the persona "Hugh Brownstone"; clearly a nudging reference to the classic New York brownstone architecture. No surprise there: after all, "Jon Stewart" is not Jon Stewart's real name, either. Now, as a professional cataloguer, I have spent many hours tracking down pseudonyms, in order to collate works by the same author by means of "see" and "see also" cross-references. In genre fiction these can proliferate – John Creasey (a name few will recognise today, but who was once an English bestseller) used twenty-eight different pen names, for example – and one of the meaner pleasures of indexing is to unmask a formerly pseudonymous writer. So I did the obvious thing, and checked on the Web to see how transparent the connection between the names "Jon Stewart" and "Hugh Brownstone" was. Incredibly, I drew a complete blank. It seems that everyone believes "Hugh Brownstone" is a real person. Perhaps he is!

The satirical magazine Private Eye has a regular feature, Lookalikes, where readers write in to remark on the resemblance between a public figure and someone (or sometimes something) else. Two pictures are placed side by side, and the standing joke is to reverse the captions. Like much in Private Eye, it's rather juvenile, but amusing in a cruel sort of way (do an image search for "private eye lookalikes" and you'll get the idea). Now, it's true that the perception of facial resemblance is quite a subjective thing. I've mentioned before how a friend at university, Jude Woodward, used to call me Ed, somehow seeing a resemblance to Captain Beefheart's drummer Ed Marimba; another, even more improbably, saw a likeness to hatchet-faced actor Lee Van Cleef of the spaghetti westerns. Really? But in the case of Stewart v. Brownstone, I seem to stand alone. Am I crazy? See what you think.

1. I hope you realise I'm attempting a rambling "Brownstone" sentence here. "Hold that thought" seems to be his catchphrase.


Kent Wiley said...

I've been wondering for some time whether Hugh reads from a script, or if he can actually speak extemporaneously like that. I've held that thought so many times, my mind is full of camera divertimenti, and is still trying to find its way back to the original thought.

Never noticed a J.S. resemblance. Maybe lose the glasses & the beard?

Mike C. said...


It's a very weird delivery, isn't it? On the verge of self-parody most of the time. I can't listen to an entire review, it's so tedious after a while.

No resemblance?? Just by putting on some glasses, fluffing up his hair, and letting the stubble grow a bit he passes among us, unknown... The accent, though, is surely the same as Jon Stewart's? I believe they're both from New York... I wonder if a paternity test might be in order... ;)