I consider myself a Jon Stewart fan. I watch The Daily Show every night; I agree with most things he says. I enjoy his quirky left-wing Jewish demeanor as much as the next person.
Turns out, I’ve been using the term “fan” a little more loosely than Sharilyn Johnson.
Johnson, aka Jon Stewart’s Superfan, is a Winnipeg native who is now starring in her own Fringe play, Fake News Fangirl.
The play is a 60-minute memoir where Johnson recounts her personal experiences and feelings, while using pictures and a few video clips to keep the audience engaged. The experience has an awkward, intimate feel as she stands before the audience, between gulps of water, dishing on her feelings of lust and admiration for Stewart and his protégé Stephen Colbert.
“When I was 15 years old, I saw Jon Stewart on television, and he was the right sensibility and he was cute and he was exactly what I was looking for in a comedy hero,” said Johnson.
Johnson is an attractive woman with palpable enthusiasm and a clear sense of who she is and, well, who she adores. She tells her story with gusto, but in a breathy cadence that makes her obsessive behaviour a little easier to digest. The play begins from her grungy teens, where she sees Stewart dressed as Ana Nicole Smith and deems it a beautiful comedic moment. The very fact that someone could make a fool out of themselves to make others smile seems to strike a chord with Johnson, and she begins to follow Jon Stewart’s career.
The play, which covers the past decade and a half, tells of Johnson going to multiple live tapings of Stewart’s and Colbert’s shows in New York, then taking a fake news writing course from Daily Show writer J.R Havlan, and doing her best to try and meet with Stewart.
I applaud Johnson for her bravery and willingness to put herself out there, but her “descent into fandom” quickly turns from cute to borderline delusional. In theory, that should make for good theatre, but the play moves from harmless admiration to pure disillusionment in a way that is difficult to justify. It showcases celebrity obsession in a mostly light-hearted manner but takes a few harsh turns when she talks about a coke-fueled encounter with a Daily Show writer, and explicit Stewart/Colbert erotic fan fiction.
The most interesting part for me was when Johnson got deep and talked about the ridicule she felt after finding herself on the popular gossip website Gawker, and was laughed at and mocked by millions.
Although the play has been selling itself as “hilarious,” I’d say the more accurate word is uncomfortable. There were a few sparse laughs in the showing I attended, but no one seemed to be busting a gut at any point.
The show is worth watching, if only for the psychological exploration of a fellow ‘Pegger who knew what she wanted and then went after it. Her story is a unique one at best, and can be seen at Venue 15, Prairie Theatre Exchange.