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Is The Lost Fake News Fandom Creepy Or Radical?

Stephen Colbert gives his best bud, Jon Stewart, some affection.

In late 1998, an auspicious change was made on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show (with, at the time, Craig Kilborn). The change? Craig Kilborn was replaced… by Jon Stewart. It would be the start of a whole new fandom…the fake news fandom.

(One) hero of fake news fandom: Jon Stewart.
An infant in an ill-fitting adult man suit. (The Daily Show with Jon Stewart/Comedy Central)

In hindsight, the choice seemed much better than it did when The Daily Show with Jon Stewart debuted in 1999. Stewart’s suits were too big, the jokes were bad and his banter with the correspondents (a part of the show from the beginning) often fell flat. He already had one show canceled (RIP The Jon Stewart Show), and it looked like he would fail again.

Then Things Changed

By the end of 1999, Republicans were fully-immersed in the primary season for the 2000 Presidential Election. At the same time, some behind the scenes changes were made on The Daily Show; the show was getting back on its feet. And finally, most importantly: a correspondent named Stephen Colbert got Jon Stewart to laugh.

Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert: the focus of fake news fandom.
Stephen Colbert doing what he does best. (The Late Show with Stephen Colbert/CBS)

Over the next five years, a friendship would blossom that would change the course of late-night television. But you know that story. The Late Show with Stephen Colbert is always buzzing on social media these days; The Colbert Report is remembered with fondness (we will always miss “Stephen”)… the legacy of the professional relationship between Stewart and Colbert has a lasting influence. The chemistry between the two has always been strong. They know it, and they play into it for those who might find the two to have energy that is more than… friends. There are plenty of examples of this, but the most prominent one might be the one time it was revealed that Colbert’s “Report” persona ended up moving into a small cabin with Jon Stewart to live happily ever after.

Okay, We Are Talking About HoYay

HoYay means, in short, “Homoeroticism, Yay!” It was popularized by the site TVTropes. It was a major factor in fake news fandom getting its start. A lot of fans who already liked slash (the shipping of two male characters) — and even some who didn’t — saw potential in the Stewart/Colbert pairing. Now, the ethics of this (and all Real Person Slash/Shipping) are… unclear.

Bro, is it gay to retire to a tiny cabin in the woods just with your best bud? (The Late Show with Stephen Colbert/CBS)

To be fair, people have been doing this sort of thing, arguably, for centuries. They did it first with royalty and nobility, gossiping about who should marry whom and so on and so forth. (And they still do it today.) Fan magazines about movie stars from the silent era wrote narratives about the stars hooking up and breaking up. People have been shipping band members for a while. Still, there are some that find the whole idea distasteful, and they should be acknowledged and respected for their opinions. This article is probably not for you if you are one of those people.

And that’s okay.

The Good Days Of The Fake News Fandom

The fake news fandom had good days, heady days, for nearly fifteen years, during the years of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report. The fake news fandom has expanded over the years to include other correspondents…and even real news hosts. Yes, you read that right. Really, most of the political intelligentsia was swept into the fake news fandom. You could read fics, both gen and ship-py, with nearly any journalist or commentator in the United States. Or…you could just read Jon/Stephen fics. Or write them. Or draw fan art. Y’know, typical fandom activities.

The stars themselves: Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert
Ah, those early days. (The Daily Show with Jon Stewart/Comedy Central)

The fake news fandom was…quiet. Private. While very active, it kept to itself. Then some journalists wrote about the fandom and linked it to a fansite. Things got more private after that.

The Decline Of The Fake News Fandom

The fandom arguably started its decline when The Colbert Report ended, as there was less content from the productions to generate fan creations. It officially went dormant upon the end of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart just eight months later. The fandom made a tad of a return to The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, but it has not seen the amount of activity that the fandom had at its height. Another factor that came into play with the decline: the introduction of Tumblr.

Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert at the last episode of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
Stephen Colbert does what he does second-best: make Jon Stewart cry. (The Daily Show with Jon Stewart/Comedy Central)

The fake news fandom was primarily a text-based fandom and lived on LiveJournal. While many migrated to Tumblr with LiveJournal’s decline, many also did not. Although fanfiction is still prolific on Tumblr, it’s harder to find.

Where “Fake News Fandom” Stands Today

Mostly, the fake news fandom is dormant. While there are Tumblrs that ask the question “Is Stephen Colbert straight today?” things have quieted down. Where the fake news fandom stands today is one of an unsure legacy. RPS/F has gotten more attention than ever, with certain fans wailing over stars like Tom Holland dating anyone but Zendaya and anything to do with One Direction’s massive slash fandom. Most of the attention has been negative, thanks to fans being more connected than ever on social media, talking to the stars directly about how they should or should not run their love lives. This obviously isn’t a good thing.

However, it isn’t something the fake news fandom actively participated in, by any means. The relationship between the fake news fandom and Stewart and Colbert was more of a cheeky one than anything else — the two engaged in HoYay-tastic adventures with a wink towards the audience. It was almost as if the audience and the two hosts tipped their hats at one another, acknowledging both the truth and the lie at the same time — no, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert were never romantically involved — but they were and are still the best of friends.

The infamous banana incident. (The Daily Show with Jon Stewart/Comedy Central)

And that is your Moment of Zen.

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Ruth Johnson
Ruth Johnson is a screenwriter and scholar who focuses on themes of adaptation, satire and queer sensibilities in her analysis and studies of modern media. She holds an MS from Boston University and a BA from Agnes Scott College.

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