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On Monday night, Stephen Colbert made his big return to the Ed Sullivan Theater after 15 months away during the global Covid-19 pandemic. For the occasion, he invited back his old friend Jon Stewart, whose appearances on The Late Show have made for some of the finest moments in Colbert's six seasons as host. But, the episode quickly took a strange turn on Monday as Stewart and Colbert clashed over the origins of Covid-19.
"I think we owe a great debt of gratitude to science. Science has, in many ways, helped ease the suffering of this pandemic, which was more than likely caused by science,” Stewart said shortly after sitting down. His statement drew shock from Colbert and laughter from the crowd.
As of right now, the origin of the Covid-19 outbreak is unknown. Dr. Anthony Fauci, America’s top infectious disease expert, has stated his view that the virus likely jumped from bats to humans through an animal host. What's come to be known as the lab-leak theory has gained traction mostly among right groups. Last month, the theory saw more mainstream attention when President Joe Biden called on U.S. intelligence officials to “redouble their efforts” in discovering the origin of Covid-19 and if it did come from an accidental leak in a laboratory in Wuhan.
“Do you mean perhaps there’s a chance that this was created in a lab?” Colbert asked Stewart.
“A chance?” Stewart responded. “Oh my god, there’s a novel respiratory coronavirus overtaking Wuhan, China, what do we do? Oh, you know who we could ask? The Wuhan novel respiratory coronavirus lab. The disease is the same name as the lab. That’s just a little too weird!”
Stewart continued with a joke: “There’s been an outbreak of chocolatey goodness near Hershey, Pennsylvania, what do you think happened? I don’t know, maybe a steam shovel made it with a cocoa bean. Or it’s the fucking chocolate factory!”
Colbert noted that Fauci has said the lab-leak theory should be investigated and pushed back, telling Stewart: “It could be possible that they have the lab in Wuhan to study the novel coronavirus diseases because in Wuhan there are a lot of coronavirus diseases because of the bat population there.”
As Stewart doubled down, Colbert asked him, “And how long have you worked for Senator Ron Johnson?”
In the end, after making an extremely Jurassic Park argument that science has gone too far, Stewart stood up and talked directly into the camera: "I have been alone so long. And when I realized that the laboratory was having the same name—first name and last name—of the evil that had been plaguing us, I thought to myself, that’s fucked up."
The whole thing left a lot of Stewart fans scratching their heads. It's not like him to go hard on a take before we have all the facts. Maybe this whole conversation was a bit that didn't quite land? Does Stewart actually believe in the lab-leak theory? Was he just fucking with Colbert and trolling conservatives? Either way, the segment has sparked a lot of confused chatter on Twitter today, with Stewart getting some rare praise from conservatives and shock from many Democrats and some scientists.
What's abundantly clear is that Stewart has maybe made a strong case for staying off TV for a little while.
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