Bill O'Reilly appeared on The Daily Show last night in part to promote his new book, Killing Kennedy, but primarily to set the stage for his upcoming debate with Jon Stewart. This Saturday's “Rumble in the Air-Conditioned Auditorium,” will be a semi-serious debate on topics related to the 2012 election, with half the proceeds going to charity. Live-streaming of the event starting at 8pm EST will be available for $5, and if last night's show was any indication, it will be money well spent.
Not only are O'Reilly and Stewart arguably the most respected TV pundits in the major parties, they also have great comedic chemistry. Stewart's often self-deprecating approach balances perfectly with O'Reilly's ceaseless, superior ego, which I assume is only maybe 75% earnest. My favorite element of their dynamic is the patronizing praise that O'Reilly lavishes on Stewart whenever The Daily Show host says something clever. This is especially funny when Stewart joins in and feigns surprise at his own ability to come up with a coherent argument.
Of course, it won't be a true surprise if Stewart has plenty of cleverness come Saturday, since his debate coach is the modern master of wit: Stephen Colbert. I wish that it were just Colbert debating O'Reilly himself, but I'll settle for Stewart as a proxy. O'Reilly “joked” that his coach was Professor Irwin Corey, a dated reference that went completely over my head, and the heads of everyone born after 1970. I guess we'll just have to hope that the Fox News front-man picks up some fresher material in the next couple of days, because Stewart can't make “your audience is old people” jokes all night.
“The Rumble in the Air-Conditioned Auditorium” won't be all wise-cracks though, since both Bill O'Reilly and Jon Stewart seem to be true-believers in their respective parties. I expect plenty of real, frank discussion subtly layered into the satire. There's also always the possibility that someone will take a joke too far and draw some not-quite-sarcastic animosity from the other side. Obviously, Stewart and O'Reilly have been doing plenty of playful, tongue-in-cheek trash talking, but I think there's a small chance that things could actually get heated. And it won't necessarily be the host of the O'Reilly Factor who breaks. I'm pretty sure I saw Stewart choking back some anger at least once during yesterday's interview. There's clearly only so much of the O'Reilly ego that he's willing to tolerate.
Last night also showed us that O'Reilly has a sense of humor beyond mocking liberals, which I'll admit came as a surprise to me. He had me laughing several times, though I'm not sure if I was always laughing with him. It remains to be seen what kind of tone will underscore Saturday night's debate, but whatever happens, it's sure to be entertaining. Both O'Reilly and Stewart are witty, well-informed, and capable of captivating an audience. As for which pundit will win, my money is on Stewart, but don't count out big Bill just yet.
For a full recap and results, including takeaways and who won the debate, see here.