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tv   Amanpour Company  PBS  October 31, 2018 4:00pm-5:01pm PDT

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hello, everyone. and welcome to "amanpour and company." here's what's coming up. two comic geniuses who share a rare ability to mine hope in these troubled times. a thoughtful, surprising and, yes, funny conversation with dave chapelle and jon stewart. and with basic rights being challenged like never before, we talk to two florida activists, former felons, who are fighting to restore voting rights to more than a million ex-convicts in florida. >> uniworld is a proud sponsor
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i'm chris yawn atiane amanpour. america seems more divided than at any time in our recent memory, coming apart at the seams you might say. so what better time to talk to dave sh pel and jon stewart? two of the most important voices in contemporary culture. both have redefined the boundaries of storytelling. with his sketches on chapelle show, dave skewers racial stereotypes and is an international sensation. and jon ever since helming "the daily show" became almost more relevant than traditional news ank anchors with his satire laser focused on the truth and lies of current political discourse. away from the small screen, though, stand-up is a vital part of any comedians' dna and the two have teamed up for rare performances in the united states and europe, tackling issues like gun violence, the twitter era, and what it's like to raise kids in 2018 amid mounting political uncertainty. i caught up with them at london's royal albert hall to
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see whether comedy can, indeed, at this time help bridge the political divide. jon stewart, dave chapelle, welcome to the program. >> thank you. >> firstly, what is it like doing a comedy in here in albert hall, ever been in such a hall? >> is there such a hall? >> it was very royal. you felt wrapped in velvet. >> what brings you two together? i know you've done things together. why now? why here? >> well, it started when i was doing a residency at radio city. and part of the residency i would have, you know, different comedians and musicians, we would all come. it was kind of like a great collective or curation of talent. this particular night, it was the day that the riot happened in charlottesville. >> oh, yeah. >> and, i mean, you could feel it in the room. people -- it was a palpable feelings around it. and jon stewart showed up that
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night. when he went on, really, like either jon or obama, only people that would have got -- literally you're the only ones who would have got -- >> obama is a type five on charlottesville that would have crushed. >> you could feel the crowd. it was a sigh of relief. you were like to be rational and like the set you did that day was so powerful. >> well, that opens up a lot of questions. first and foremost, i was just reading about lenny bruce, the great comedian. i thing it's 50 years since he died. all of a sudden having a resurgence of broadway play about to happen. features in an amazon prime series. >> lenny bruce? >> lenny bruce. >> his career is going better now. >> yeah. having a revival. >> he changed agents. >> but people are saying that, you know, the same things that he was satirizing exist right now. the assault on free speech.
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the partitioning of the country along race and religious lines, >> right. >> the protests on the streets and in congress. and i wonder whether that affects you, whether you internalize that given what you just said about a rational voice. >> well, i don't know about a rational voice but i think we always internalize what's around us. we're comedians and i think we feed off of whatever the food is of the day that's coming around. i don't know that, you know, in terms of a resurgence of the country being divided along racial and class lines and gender lines and all that. i feel like that's always with us. it just at times it maybe bubbles up more explicitly but em even when you don't say it out loud, it still exists and it's always foundational. and so, i don't know that it ever goes away. >> do you think it is more acute right now? >> the division? >> yeah.
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>> no. man, no. in fact, some of the things they say, even when they say that russians influenced the election, it's kind of like is russia making us racist? is that who's doing it? okay. i thought it was us. putin's like -- >> huh? >> i hadn't thought of it that way. >> if they kill the country that way, we're the murder weapon. >> yeah. we've always been. >> so is the trump era a good era for comedians? is it just unbelievable fodder? or not? >> i would not even name the era after him. >> yeah. >> he's getting too much credit. >> he's the president. >> he's not making the wave. he's surfing it. >> yeah. always been there. >> he just -- all he does is sing those people's greatest hits. build a wall. all these things we've heard before. he sings the songs. he's the only one who's been brash enough to do it. >> he's been more aggressive
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toward journalists and reporters. obviously we're speaking in a moment when one of our colleagues has been butchered in cold blood in a consulate in turkey. >> terrifying. >> and in that environment, president trump talks about a candidate running for office who has body slammed a reporter. i'm going to play a little bit of what he said. >> any guy that can do a body slam, he's my kind of -- >> what do you make of that? i asked you because you were sort of the gray beard of journalism almost. i know you hate that. but when anchors started to be less authoritative than they used to be maybe 20 years ago, you were for better or for worse considered somebody with authority. >> i think we were the protest vote to a large extent. we were none of the above. some people would say who's the most trusted news anchor? they would list the four network anchors then they would throw in, you know, my name, none of the above, and everybody's like,
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none of the above and circle it. that would go there. you know? i think that he is a performer. when we do our shows, we do our shows. and no matter if we're sitting in royal albert hall or like in copenhagen we went to a little room called the zoo. there was, you know, 100 danish-speaking somewhat surprised people to see us. we sat there and we did our show. we did it -- drup drup onald tr salesman who changes his pitch depending on who he is in front of. what he doesn't realize is it's all being recorded so his pitch to that audience is the us versus them, we're all the victims of this liberal media, of these soft journalists who come out here and lie about us. we're really great people. that's what he pitches to them. if you ask him about it and you say, do you think that's okay to
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body slam reporters? no, no, of course not. do not do that. i was joking in front of friends. >> before we go forward, let's go back to the day of the election. you were hosting "saturday night live" right after the election. >> donald trump, i'm going to give him a chance and we, the historically disenfranchised, demand that he give us one, too. thank you very much. >> did that dream, desire come true? has he given you a chance? do you still want to give him a chance? >> i think i said the right thing at the right time. >> uh-huh. >> you know what i mean? i think that we had to recalibrate and kind of put things in perspective. you know? i'm a black american so we've -- these feelings that people felt after the election, we felt that many elections consecutively. i think that to some degree people overreacted. like the alternative to giving
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him a chance was storming the streets and if something's good on television, they won't do that. >> hbo has a lot of offerings right now to keep you from storming. >> "game of thrones" is on? can't make the riot tonight. i don't know. is he doing a good job? am i happy with what he's doing? no. it's been very difficult to watch the last couple years. >> harder than i think i thought it would be. there was a part of me that thought when you get in that room and it's nighttime and there's no one around and teddy roosevelt and abe lincoln and everybody is up on the walls staring at you, that brings a cognitive weight to what you're feeling. i imagine he walks in that room, he's like take that down, take that down. put up dogs playing poker. can a fella get some french fries around here? i think that oddly enough he transforms the white house, the white house wasn't able to
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transform him. >> back in 2015, when he announced for president, you didn't take it entirely seriously. >> the man came down an escalator. >> can i just play what you said? >> oh, sure. >> like many of you i heard some interesting let's call it news today about a certain, let's say, gift from heaven. entering the presidential race because apparently huckabee/santorum wasn't farfetched enough. i got to tell you, the world right now is going, whites are black, trump's running for president, like -- >> should you have taken it more seriously? i mean, you're the oracle, jon. >> yeah, now. i didn't think -- i thought america was going to go, is that an escalator in the mall? i'm not going to vote for that dude. "a," i didn't think he meant it. and when he gave that speech, quite frankly, i really thought when he said, you know, mexico sends us the worst, rapists and
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murderere murdererers, i really thought he disqualified himself. >> not to mention what he said about women. about women, about everything he said there. i thought this is disqualifying. for me, though, and clearly i don't speak for -- you know, he's been very effective at, like, what dave said. surfing the waves that have been there. i'm watching the midterms. man, you would think the country is mad max thunderdome. this guy is like they're coming from guatemala, they're coming from mexico, there's a liberal mob that's coming. muslims. and you would think everybody in the country's just like, to the bunker. to the ramparts. >> to that point, it's been written about you, dave -- >> it has been written. >> it's been said you have a singular gift for blurring left and right, red and blue states. what do you think that means? that somehow you're able to sort of surf, bring them together, not necessarily get stuck in the political divide. >> because most of the political discussion is so binary and i'm
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way more interested than that. >> you are way more interested than that. >> most people are. if you talk to them. you know, i have people say, you know, families are not speaking to one another because of politics. that sounds insane to me. like, a ton of people that i love and respect that i completely disagree with. >> so do you think, because obviously we're all caught up in this sort of daily trumpfest. i mean, every single newspaper, every radio station, every bit of social media -- >> you got to make money, too. with you got bills to pay, man. you got electric bills. you got food. this guy, he's giving you all cash. the cash flow in the trump era for these tv stations and for these news -- >> can i say, that might have been an issue and maybe it is for the people who are the bean counters but we the journalists, we, i think, believe that our job is to navigate the truth and to do the fact checking and all
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the rest of it so i think that's what -- >> i think the journalists have taken it personally. >> that's interesting. >> they're personally wounded and defended by this man. he baits them. they dive in. what he's done well i thought is appeal to their own narcissism, their own ego. what he says is these are -- the journalists stand up and say we're noble, we're honorable, how dare you, sir? they take it certainly. now he's changed the conversation to not that his policies are silly or not working or any of those other things. it's all about the fight. he's able to tune out everything else and get people just focused on the fight. he's going to win that fight. >> even bob woodward said in his book on the trump white house that a lot of journalists are too emotional about this but it's hard for us to be dispassionate when words from the white house are aggressive against us and, you know, raise the spectrum of violence -- >> you're not used to it. >> no, no, we're used to it, believe me. >> think of muslims.
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think of the black community, people. you know? when journalists rise to this outrage of how dare you say this about us, think about the lives they've been leading under this. >> all right. >> and what they have been put under. >> so you have said artists can transcend race like nobody can. >> true. >> so tell me about that. tell me how you do that and why you do in it a way that others can't. >> even the early days of bebop and jazz, the bandstand was integrated decades before the country was. artists such a beautiful thing to look at. one can forget certain lines that one should not transgress socially. in the pursuit of art, if someone's good at something, you want to be with that person. no matter what color, race, gender. if they got the gift, they got the gift. artists are. >> hopefully it articulates something human, not something
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purely sectarian. >> comedy, steve martin said this, you've said it in a different way. >> you got a good research department. >> comedy is not always nice. it can be really mean and it can push boundaries to a place where some people feel really offended. is that -- is that because everybody's a snowflake? or, does comedy -- should comedy have certain boundaries at all? >> well, i think there's somewhat separate questions. >> are they? >> comedy's boundaries should be excellence. so whatever it is that you're talking about in terms of subject matter, if you're just napalming indiscriminately to provoke, to me, that's not really comedy. comedy should be something more human and truly believed and -- but i don't put any line on it. i'm fascinated when they say where do comedians draw the line? nobody ever goes and says to donald trump, where do
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presidents draw the line? you know, we add insult sometimes to injury, but -- >> horseface. >> horseface. >> he should draw the line at horseface. >> which as we know is what he called stormy ydaniels. >> that's right. i'm more interested in his insults, more interested in this injuries. in the people that are being hurt. not in the people that are being insulted but are being hurt. >> i wanted to talk to you about louis c.k. >> okay. >> everybody's talking about it. >> i don't know about everybody. >> a lot of people. >> my mom hasn't mentioned it. >> has she never? jon, would you have done that? >> will he go back on stage? she is thinking about other things. >> you said comedy is not a particularly friendly place for women. >> it's not been, no. >> do you think that will change? >> hopefully it changes. >> the better question is why is it not friendly to women? >> boy, that's a good question. you know, the roots of it, i
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don't know. i mean, i think it started out as a male-dominated field. it's not a particularly welcoming field. you have to come out there and cut your teeth on it. i think in general most things are not -- i'll tell you a story. so, we had on "the daily show" an article about a sexist environment, we didn't have women writers. i got offended by that. i was very mad. i was raised by a single mother. she wore a t-shirt that said a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle. and me and my brother were like, i think we might be men. this is terrible. so i was mad. how can they say such a thing? i went back to the writers room, do you believe this, steve? what do you think, greg, dave, tom, mike? i was like, oh. and it was right. but the reason it was right was not necessarily one that we had seen before. our ignorance to it was such that -- we put in a system of getting writers where there were
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no names on it. we thought that's colorblind, gender blind, et cetera. you don't realize the system itself, the tributaries that feed us those submissions, is polluted, as well. all we are getting is white males that wrote for the lampoon or funny jewish guys from brown so what you had to say then is, send me not that. send me your women. send me people of color. we get the submissions and say i can't believe how funny women have gotten recently. you see what i'm saying? >> i do see what you're saying. >> it's a systemic issue. i think what can mostly help change is when you open up new tributaries to bring in talent and then they grow and then they help grow their community. >> 100%. >> and tell their stories. >> and that's the most important. >> 100%. can i just move from gender to race then? because obviously there's been very, very, very funny black comedians.
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african-american comedians. and i read, also, that, you know, obviously, bill cosby was a hero to many in the black and white community, frankly. i think he was at one point a hero to you. >> absolutely. >> if he was your hero, how difficult was it -- how hard was it for you to get to grips with the transgressions against women? >> it was -- it's a nightmare to see a hero fall that heinously. like literally. i talked about it on one of my specials. someone said i was defending him. i was, like, defending him? i was mourning him, like the loss of a hero. it was a terrible, terrible thing to watch. i got it tell you, seeing him get perp walked at 81 was devastating for every black comedian. like, oh my god, this is terrible. i joked about it before. all my heroes murdered by the government or a registered sex
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offender. it's a sad state of affairs. >> what is the right way for anybody to rehabilitate them? louis c.k. did what he did without consent of the women who he did it in front of. and then he pops into the comedy cellar in the village and does this act, again, without consent of the audience. they didn't know he was going to be there. be that as it may -- >> that's why i get consent of the audience. i go around and -- >> you cool with me going on? >> i'm going to go on. >> but here's the situation. the guy who runs the comedy cellar got into some flack for it. so did louis c.k. for not even talking about it, not acknowledging it, not apologizing or whatever. >> i don't know that he didn't acknowledge it. >> well, apparently he didn't according to the initial reporting in the initial appearance. >> i mean, i know i read in the paper but i also know what i heard on the streets. >> okay. >> from a comic, we know a few eyewitnesses.
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>> it's a slightly different version. >> either way, what should be the right way for society to deal with somebody like louis c.k.? should he be forever banned from his job or be reprimanded or should there be -- >> i think the question, itself, is somewhat unanswerable. when you talk about the right way in society to rehabilitate, it's something we've struggled with in the criminal justice system forever. >> we know how rehabilitative that system is. >> right. >> this is much different. there are -- there are shades of gray in this whole area and there's been a lot of black and white activity since me too began and now people are saying, especially men, there needs to be some kind of parameters. >> it's nascent. >> that we all know. >> it's nascent in its embryonic stages. >> what should he do to come back on stage? or is he doing the right thing? >> again, there is no recipe, there is no model l that can be put together and say if he did
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one, two, and three, everybody will be cool. i don't think it works that way. this is something that we find together as a society but it's not -- i don't know that you can say there's a formula here that makes sense. i'm a believer in restorative justice. in the idea that when transgressions occur that the parties must participate. together to bring themselves to some conclusion. but the truth is you won't find 100%. you can't say, what's the right way to do this so that everybody will be okay, because they won't. >> yeah. where is the forum to build the consensus? >> right. >> i don't see -- >> we're a society now of reactionary. we've taken on -- news has taken on the rhythm of twitter. most emotional form of communication. >> now, jon. >> i'm sorry. >> i'm going to push back on you
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there. >> please. >> we're doing our job here trying to navigate a new normal that's been thrust on the world. >> would you say that there is an overemphasis among many in the mainstream media on twitter as a reliable arbiter of the emotional state of an issue? >> i think less. i think twitter is having less of an effect on us but i think you're right in every tweet is dissected. i grapple with the idea of overemotionally -- >> i would like to see your grapple. >> i'm grappling. believe me. every night i grapple. i grapple with the issues. >> i like it. >> versus the hysteria and emotion. >> i think 140 or 280 characters is not a welcome forum for that type of grappling, but it's certainly a seductive forum. >> our long show is a very welcome forum. >> it's why i never miss it. what time is it on and what day? >> now -- >> i'm not on twitter. >> yeah, see, me, neither.
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>> that's interesting. >> a new movement, me neither. >> no hashtag though, because we're not on twitter. >> you famously walked away from a very, very lucrative career on comedy central. people say there was like $50 million left on the table. what was your issue with fame and fortune and publicity? >> i don't know if my issue was with fame and fortune but i do know that the other side of that was after i left i didn't think that i would ever work in this capacity again. and i redefined success for myself. i raised some kids. i had a happy life. you know what i mean? >> okay. that's really important. flesh that out. >> having -- >> yes. >> having a happy life? >> yes. >> i get up in the morning. my days are fairly predictable. most of the things that i do i do because i want to, not because i have to. kids are healthy. no one's mad at me.
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no one's afraid of anything real or there's nothing palpable to be afraid of. we laugh a lot. i see friends of mine on a fairly regular basis and there's a happy life. >> i said, you know, you tend -- you're known for blurring lines between various sides of the coin. you, yourself, are african-american. you're muslim. you don't talk much about your religion. you're married to a filipino. you have three biracial children. it's a very -- it's a polyglot. it's a melting pot right there. >> yeah, i guess. >> you make it sound conscious. >> yeah. >> i think you're -- >> i love who i love. >> he loves who he loves. people are defining those lines as though they're not supposed to be blurred but if you don't define those lines then he's not blurring. he doesn't -- his family is not a blur. >> the last 12 years were. >> that's a beautiful unit. it's -- i don't -- those lines can be defined by others but
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that's not -- >> but others are. >> the lines don't -- a life well lived, i think these lines will mean less and less. legitimately -- >> i hope so. >> doesn't mean i'm not aware of the lines. i'm fortunate enough i can transcend them on many occasions. >> i started by asking you why here. what is it that you two want to say together to the world today? >> i'm glad you asked. >> beyond just lucrative comedy and all the -- you know? what's your manifesto? >> again, i think -- >> the answer is i'm glad you asked. >> a slight misconception. so we started out in comedy together. i've known dave since he was a 17-year-old young man who came into the comedy cellar and blew us all away. you don't see people with that just ability and insight at that age. i think from that moment i've
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just always been so respectful and honored to be around him and to listen to him and talk to him. he's just such a thoughtful and insightful individual. >> thanks, man. >> comedy is about for us the hang. it's about the hang. it's about getting to a certain point where you go out. when you're starting out, it can be very solitary and you are on the road and in places you don't know and not necessarily tricked out theaters where queen victoria has her own box. you're in walnut creek and you're staying on the side of a road somewhere. and for me, this has been a wonderful just reconnection to that life i had but at a much better level and place. and i feel like part of what we do here is just have a really great time together and have a great time with the friends and family that are with us. and communicate with the audience is our thing and react with them and interact with them. and it's just a -- it's a wonderful way to spend a week.
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>> i think one thing jon brings -- i've been touring forever. one of the things that's special about touring with him is collectively i think the crowd listens differently than the average comedy crowd. i think a lot of people see our names on the bill and they come to get like the political word but it's not even that. it really is just a great comedy show. and i love traveling the world this way because -- >> yes. >> you know, a lot of people been to copenhagen but they don't know what the crowd in copenhagen feels like. it's a great way to engage a city. >> how's it different? can you tell me what's different between the crowd in new york and copenhagen and london? >> because of the internet, sadly, places are not as diverse as they used to be. everyone does kind of eat from the same trough now. however, european crowds listen more than they do in america.
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america, it's not that they don't listen in the states, but we are a raucous bunch and here they have really good performance etiquette. if they go to see a show -- >> wildly polite. >> that's good. >> wildly. >> it's an adjustment. we had to get used to it. >> did you get as much feedback? >> well, it's a different -- first of all, when we first were performing, it was copenhagen and -- >> stockholm. >> -- stockholm. we like to think comedy is somewhat nuanced of language and somewhat precise of language and those nuances mean something and they're taking it in. as their second language. and so, i thought there would be a lag where they'd go on google translate and just be like, that's nice. like it would have been performing at the u.n. and everybody has headphones and they hear it finally in swedish and go, that's funny. but it wasn't. they really took to it very naturally but there is definitely a sense of they
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really want to hear you. like, i don't know that in the states we've ever performed somewhere where people were just like, you know, this is exciting for us and we really want to hear what you're saying. >> american rules of engagement are different. >> the expectation of comedy is different. in america, there's a sense of we are also part of the show. i'm going to throw my two cents in and that's going to make it, you know, even better. i've had hecklers come up afterwards, i helped you out there, didn't i? actually, i had some things planned out. so you didn't really. but i've enjoyed seeing -- i've never been able to travel and seeing the lifestyle of copenhagen. seeing -- i will say this, too. it's really interesting and even in scandinavian countries, they don't blur the lines. they don't have the same divisions in some respects that we have racially or religiously. it's very interesting to see. >> that's why when i asked you the questions, i come from a different perspective than the united states. >> absolutely. >> you just said, you know, you like the hang. i assume you mean hanging out.
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>> yeah. >> is that the hang? >> yeah, yeah, yeah. >> i like to throw that slang around. >> i got to try to pick it up. >> it i like to hang when i'm gigging. >> is it the same in journalism? do you like each other? is. >> we like to hang. yes, especially on the road. that's a little bit milike what you do. >> you talk about your perspective on working on the story. >> we like it. a comradcomrade. same level. shoulder to shoulder. hanging and being out of your comfort zone. >> yeah, yeah. >> so are you happy out of your comfort zone since "the daily show"? do you wish you were still there given the trump era? >> can we call this the lil' wayne era? >> now that carter five is out we have to call it the lil' wayne era. it was time for me to leave the show. >> i know you said that before. >> that was the right choice. >> that, you said before.
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>> slightly different than dave, i waited until i got paid. >> similar. >> i went and i'm raising kids. trying to, you know, but also trying to live a more i think richer balanced life. i was really focused on that. i knew it was my last shot. it was something i believed passionately in and did it to the best of my ability as far as i could go. >> i have a question. did you do standup when you were young? >> very little. like, i would do it on the weekends, you know? but not a ton and i miss that. >> you mean, when you were doing "the daily show" you didn't do standup? >> no. after you left the show. >> i thought he meant afterwards. >> it took me a while. it really ignited the night that dave was at radio city and he'd been curating the shows and had chance the rapper, hannibal burris. i came out because i'd been watching charlottesville all
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day. i said, dave, can i come on and do ten? great. and i just remembered how much i loved the forum, the immediacy of it and being surrounded by your peers. >> i got to say one thing that's very impressive. the fact that he hasn't been doing stand-up and will come back and perform at the level that he has been. >> muscle memory. >> it's beyond muscle memory. that's badass. >> we've had great shows. just great. and the way that the crowd reacts, it's just been an amazing experience. we've done stuff in atlanta, houston, el paso, europe, iceland. >> and you're going to direct again, is that right? >> yeah. i wrote something that i'm going to direct. >> do we know what it is? >> i don't. i haven't read it. i wrote it but i haven't read it. don't tell me how it ends. >> you don't want to tell me. y y >> you, i watched in "a star is
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born." amazing. >> it made me cry. >> your performance on the set or the film? >> the film. >> me, too. >> yeah. i also cried. >> but i was absolutely staggered by the electricity between bradley cooper and lady gaga. you see an actor trying out being a singer in public for the first time as far as we know and a singer trying out to be an actor for the first time. and two at the top of their game trying each other's thing. i thought that was phenomenal. >> it was amazing to see up close, man. it was amazing. it's funny. i met bradley cooper here in london when he was doing a show on the west end and i knew he was cooking up something. >> "elephant man." >> is yeah. rking on "a star is born."" and >> how did you get the part? >> he asked me. i didn't know if it was going to be good. i never saw any of the other movies. i only did two movies in 18 years. one was with spike.
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because he just asked my me. one was with bradley because he asked me. >> spike was here last night. when you hang with dave, there's a carnival of talent that comes with it. there was spike lee and janet jackson and naomi campbell and all these people he has cultivated. he's a great curator of talent. i have been very happy to bask in the reflective light of that. although i also had a visitor, i think it was in stockholm. it was my kid's fifth grade teacher's sister came. not as accomplished but still -- >> be careful. she's going to get offended. >> she is going to get offended. >> yeah. i would say she's just as accomplished but in a different way. . >> i think she knows she's not a janet jackson's level. i think she feels that. but that's what's -- you know? he can -- i don't know how it happens but he draws in talents from these various areas and they come together and like the old salons the way you imagine it used to be and creates a
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really nice alchemy and really interesting vibe. >> it's funny, i don't do press. i only did this so i could meet you. >> see? now you're in the group. >> am i in your group now? i'd love to be. jon stewart, dave chapelle, thank you so much. >> a pleasure. >> pleasure. nice to see you. >> jon, you know everybody. that's the other thing. turning now to real retail voter suppression and now we bring you two florida men who are leading the fight to restore voting rights to more than 1.5 million citizens of their state. they are convicted felons.
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now, desmond mead and neil volls are activists behind amendment 4. but as former convicts, themselves, they can't vote on their own initiatiivinitiative. mead who served time for drugs and weapons charges is now a practicing attorney. volls, a former republican political operative sentenced in a lobbying scandal and together galvanizing broad support for a simple premise. once you pay your debt to society you should be able to be a full citizen again and that means being able to vote, too. we talked to them in miami. >> thank you both so much for being here. >> thanks for having us. >> thank you. >> can you tell me what amendment 4 is? >> yes. amendment 4 is constitutional amendment to restore the eligibility to vote for individuals who have previously been convicted of a felony offense. the requirement is they must complete all portions of their sentence as ordered by a judge and once that occurs then they're able to have the eligibility to vote.
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the amendment, however, would not apply to individuals who are convicted of murder or individuals who are convicted of felony sexual offenses. >> so who qualifies as a felon? >> anyone in the state of florida who's been convicted of a felony offense. one of the myths we try to debunk early on, a lot of people when they think of felon, they think of the worst things in the world. but it is so easy in florida to get a felony conviction. you know? something as simple as burning a tire in public or driving with a suspended license or even trespassing on a construction site or releasing helium-filled balloons, those things can allow someone to get a felony conviction. and if they live in florida, they will lose their right for life. >> and i think one of the things if i could just add to that, you see that play out in the court system because in florida 75% of the people who are sentenced
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with felony convictions actually aren't sentenced to prison so people are in our communities, in our church pews, sometimes pastors, bosses, working with us and they're at school, so this really is something that impacts everybody. >> why approach this as a constitutional amendment? >> we approach this as a constitutional amendment because elected officials and politicians have been talking about changing this for years and years and years and this came out of the pain of people dealing with the system that's wildly broken, a system that has us, one of four states that permanently bars people from being full citizens in their community in this way and we are just trying to do what other states like texas and georgia have done and that's basically to adhere to a principle that when a debt is paid it's paid. and when you've paid your debt then you're able to become a full citizen in your community again. >> it is often portrayed as an issue that affects almost exclusively communities of color when, in fact, that is not the reality. >> that's exactly right.
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and we appreciate that question. because while the african-american community is disproportionately impact eed a there's a long history that got us to this point, the truth is this cancer that started 150 years ago after the civil war has grown to a place where it impacts the entire state. every community's impacted by this. two thirds of those who are formerly convicted, people like myself, are not african-american. they look more like me than desmond and so it's important for people to understand this is an everybody issue and there's an impact in all communities. >> what is the pushback you most often get? >> for me, what i get sometimes is a reaction that somebody thinks that this has something to do with crime. you know? hey, if you did the crime, you should do the time. and what i found is that, you know, i'm somebody who's looking for grace. right? i need to give that person grace and ask them, why do you think that, why is that your reaction when you hear about this issue? what i've seen over and over and
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over again, what we've seen over and over again, when a person gets a chance to think about this issue and how broken our system is and if we take this step we could create safer communities and stronger families and change lives in the process then it's a true win-win. you start to see the kind of support that we're seeing right now in the polls. >> how does this make communities safer? so this makes communities safer because all the data shows -- the data on the right, data on the left, datas from universities, from all sides, show that the quicker people are able to reintegrate into their communities, the less likely they are to reoffend. when you start doing the numbers and think about the tax dollars saved and less crime that's going to happen because of it, this actually impacts every community in florida and it's a real win-win when you start thinking about the practical impacts this can have. >> so this issue is deeply personal for both of you. can you tell us a little bit about your story? >> wow. so all of my charges came because of my addiction to
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drugs. and so i have a lot of possession of drug charges. drug possession charges. and eventually, a gun was found in my home and i was charged with that. that was the last charge i received i think in 2001. and i was sentenced to prison. initially a 15-year sentence but it was reduced to 3. and i was released in 2004. i remember being homeless. and walking the streets. not much hope. you know? and eventually, my steps took me to railroad tracks and i stood there waiting on a train to come so i can jump in front of it. i was recently released from prison. i was unemployed. i was addicted to drugs. didn't have anything but my clothes that i was wearing. but the train didn't come that
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day and i ended up crossing those tracks and i checked myself into drug treatment. from there i moved into a homeless shelter, not too far from here. chapman partnership. and while there, i decided to enroll in school. and i enrolled at miami-dade college and things went well for me there academically and eventually i was accepted into law school at florida international university college of law and may of 2014 i eventually graduated. >> i got my felony conviction 12 years ago and i was working in washington at the time. i spent years up there working in republican politics. and i was chief of staff for a member of congress and then i went and worked as a lobbyist for a law firm and i got selfish and greedy and started to make stupid decisions and crossed lines i shouldn't have crossed. got in trouble.
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conspiracy charge. on a services fraud was the count. >> became a big national story. >> it was a political scandal. i played a role in that. i had to deal with the shame and the guilt of my own decisions and their impact on me. those people around me. my loved ones. my family. and that really put me in a tailspin and ultimately over some time i ended up moving to florida and that's where i started to begin to put my life back together again. >> if you win on election day, what will that mean more broadly for criminal justice reform? >> well, when i think about election day, i think about the families who are involved. i think about the individuals, the moms, the dads, the aunts, the uncles, the people who have been working with us and a part of this movement for years. and when i think about election day, i think about people getting their voice back and people having a seat at the table ppt. we're not 100% sure kind of next steps. we're really focused right now on this part of the process. i think about it as a movement because this has taken years and
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it's people who have led the charge and you know what, on election day if this passes, they're going to have their voices heard in their communities. that's going to be an election of school board or the ability to have a say over something that impacts how their mom or dad is, you know, is treated at the, you know, by the hospital or what have you. has a lot of different impacts and there will be plenty of time for us to dig into all those things. to me, it's that kind of, man, people are getting their voice back. >> i think it's something different than criminal justice reform, what we're talking about. i get excited about the way we got here, right? you're going to keep hearing me say is over and over again. people from all walks of life. i think we have something special here because with an issue as controversial as voting and dealing with felons and in the state of florida, for us to get to where we're at right now,
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supermajority with no opposition, right, and being supported from organizations from koch industries to the aclu, christian coalition all the way to the ame churches, the vang calls, latino vang calls, to florida tax watch, to have such a broad spectrum of support above the ground and on the ground says something special about this. what it says is that people can come together along the lines of humanity and shed their partisan differences. they can shed their racial anxieties and come together as human beings and make something special happen. that right there to me means that we are -- we could be a bright spot in this country. in times of these when there's so much division among people along the lines of race and along the lines of partisan
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politics, to see people come together in the state of florida around the issue like this and you have unity from all walks of life, that i think can be an example of how we can move forward in this country. >> there are people who look at the two of you and say your stories are anomalous. not everyone becomes a jd after going to prison. what do you say to that? >> i mean, it's true, but i think when you look across this country, there are so many amazing stories of returning citizens who have defied the odds and become, you know, you have sean hopwood. he teaches law at georgetown. you have simmons in the state of washington. you have bruce riley in louisiana. you know? and so many others that have done amazing, amazing work in the community and have turned their life around. now what i do say is we shouldn't have to go that far in
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order to earn the eligibility to vote back. i think that once you have served your time as ordered by a judge, you know, and that's very important because when you talk about that exchange there, or that interaction and that experience, that, you know, i'm in a courtroom and you have a judge and i have a prosecutor that knows everything about me, that knows everything about the case. right? and they made the determination based on the totality of circumstances that i should serve a certain amount of time and once i serve that my debt is paid. these are the experts that we put in place to make these determinations. they made that determination. and once i serve that time then i should be able to move on with my life. >> as republican, how do you feel about republicans' general response to this issue? >> yeah, you know what, i find that people from all political persuasions are opening to listening to, you know, what it is that amendment 4 is all about. and so we see support, majority
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support, supermajority support, from republicans, independents, democrats. >> i don't mean voters, though. i mean legislators. governors. >> yeah, the truth is we're very focused on people. you know? this movement matters to us and we were collecting petitions and knocking on doors and talking to people long before the names of those who are running were even something to think about. so for us it's always been about talking to people and that is going into, you know, i was at bike fest a couple days ago. my goodness, the support was overwhelming. so you have people ahead of the politicians. when it comes to amendment 4. >> we never went to politicians with this. because it's in the hands -- it was in their hands far too long and the beauty about this is that we did this in spite of politicians. we did this in spite of partisan politics. and we like to keep it that way. >> because where are your politics? >> listen, we are fighting just as hard if not harder for that person that wished they could
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have voted for donald trump as that person that wanted to vote for barack obama. we don't care how a person votes. what we care about is that once you've completely served all portions of your sentence that you be given an opportunity to have your voice heard. that's what matters most. >> you say that, though, understanding there is a perception most of the people who you will then make eligible will want to vote for democrats rather than voting for republicans. >> that's a great question because it deals with a narrative, a false narrative, that has been perpetuated for quite some time. >> by whom? >> by everyone. whether they're republicans, democrats. as a matter of fact, maybe i'm to blame, as well. because what happens is that we have created an illusion that the people whose rights are restored are going to be mainly african-american and people coming out of prison. the reality is in florida african-americans only account for a third of the people who
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have lost their right to vote and when you talk about people who are in prison we have to understand that florida convicts over 170,000 people each year. out of that 170,000, less than 25% are even sentenced to prison. so the overwhelming majority of people who we're talking about who are impacted are people who, number one, do not look like me, and number two, are not coming out of prison. and so that just destroys that narrative or that myth that was built on this thing that, well, african-americans always get in trouble. they're the majority of the people in prison. this is for people that are in prison so, therefore, african-americans are going to vote democrat. that could be the furthest from the truth. >> yeah. and the truth is that is how the story line goes. how we get to this false narrative is based on this idea that the majority of folks impacted are african-american and then you look at voting numbers and then make the leap to a partisan conclusion. i've been in so many meetings with people and i love this
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moment when folks, 10 or 12 of us, returning citizens sitting around and somebody asks, oh, hey, you're republican or democrat? we're not allowed to sit in those seats in this state. we can't be a republican or democrat because we're precluded from the process and so the idea that somebody wants to project onto us who we are, how we're going to make decisions in the future just doesn't make any sense and it really isn't backed up by any data on any side. we're just focused on whether people can vote and not how they can vote because it's the right thing to do. >> what has your experience taught both of you about the power of forgiveness and second chances? >> this journey, this journey has really taught me the power of humanity, about really connecting with folks. you know, i'm sitting next to this guy here. he is conservative. white guy here.
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and i consider him my brother. and our current environment tells me that he's supposed to be my enemy. but in reality, he's my bedrock in this fight. if nothing else, i think that this journey has taught me that if we just take a moment to just be in close proximity to each other and to have a conversation with each other, there's so much more that we can accomplish because we have so much more in common than we have that separates us. >> i would add to that. watching desmond lead and knowing his story and knowing our stories and knowing the stories of so many people who have come alongside of us, i'm a person of faith and i believe that god uses people who are broken and hurting, the outcast, the underdogs, those left behind to bring about change in the communities and for me this is a
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verification of beliefs that are very dear to me. i see them play out many people like des and others and myself. to know we're being used for something that's bigger than ourselves is incredibly empowering. and i love to see somebody whose voice was silenced whether by themselves or by somebody else to actually step up and share in front of an entire room of people, hey, let me tell you about my felony conviction and know a year around they wouldn't tell that to their best friend. that is powerful. >> america loves a good comeback story. >> thank you both so much. >> thank you. >> a powerful movement and as they say, a unifying one. a new poll shows that amendment 4 has garnered almost 70% support among florida voters. that is it for our program tonight. thanks for watching "amanpour & co" on pbs and join us again tomorrow night. >> uniworld is a proud sponsor
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