Given all that he’s been through, from being at the center of Donald Trump’s first impeachment to, now, overseeing an invasion of his nation, it’s easy to forget about Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s humble origins. He was a comedian. He even had a sitcom in which he plays a high school teacher unwittingly elected president of Ukraine. A few years later, that’s what happened to him. Few could have expected that. And few could have expected a comic-turned-politician to be as brave as Zelenskyy has been in the last handful of days.
Last week, Russia, under the auspices of President Vladimir Putin, invaded Ukraine. They may have expected an easy seizing of power. Instead, Russian forces have seen massive pushback, including from Zelenskyy himself. On Saturday, Zelenskyy made waves when it was revealed that not only did he refuse an offer from U.S. President Joe Biden to be evacuated from the bombarded capital of Kyiv, he had an all-timer response: “I need ammunition, not a ride.”
Since that quote went viral, people have been comparing Zelenskyy to Jon Stewart, had the former Daily Show host become elected to the highest position in America — and had he put himself in danger to defend his country from invaders. Stewart hasn’t commented on the comparisons, but he did the next best thing: He praised Zelenskyy for doing what he may never have to.
“We are comedians, and we know the general brand of cowardice that runs through our business,” Stewart said on a recent episode of The Problem with Jon Stewart, his new Apple TV+ show, while speaking with writers Robby Slowik and Rob Christensen.
“What this dude is doing, it is incredibly moving,” Stewart said of Zelenskyy. “I mean, we’re watching Shecky Greene transform into Churchill,” referencing the legendary comedian.
Stewart was stunned, not only by Zelenskyy but by his fellow countrypeople, who’ve taken up arms against the invading Russian forces, giving them what for. “What a terrible time to notice the real spine of this country,” Stewart remarked. “I wish it was not in such terrible circumstances.”
Since the invasion began last week, politicians and performers alike have sometimes struggled to address it. There have been moving addresses. There have been cringe-inducing follies. Comics have tried to find jokes about the situation without trivializing it, often by lampooning two of Putin’s biggest cheerleaders in America, former president Donald Trump and Fox News host Tucker Carlson, both of whom have heaped praise upon him during the skirmish.