Jon Stewart, speechlessly genuine

In Jon Stewart’s speech I hear six empty cups of coffee by noon, and maybe some cigarettes. I hear a good-natured choleric, this guy who’s enraged, delighted or appalled by things; the one who passionately engages in red-face, hoarse-voice arguments with his dearest friends over shining meat and balloon glasses of red wine. He shouts, groans, shrieks. Growls. Contorts his face, stands up, leans forward, falls to the floor. And he always laughs.

But not that day. On June 18th, Jon Stewart was genuinely disheartened by the “terrorist attack” in Charleston, South Carolina: the killing of nine black people in a church by a racist  – “a guy with a Rhodesia badge on his sweater.”

His plain, blunt sadness percolated his voice. And his silence. And in some instances, too, it gave the floor to the angry feeling of rebellion that made his larynx clutch.

Jon Stewart spoke about the killing of nine black people by a racist in a church in South Carolina.

Silence

Silence in speech tells the speaker’s emotions and mood.

Agitated, a speaker breathes in more often because his heart beats faster and his larynx works less efficiently – feelings affect heartbeat; heartbeat affects the diaphragm; the diaphragm controls the airflow that makes the larynx work.

Frequency of pauses correlates with intensity of feeling: the more intense the feeling, the more frequent the pauses. Duration of pauses correlates with mood: happy mood makes short pauses; sadness makes long pauses.
Frequency of pauses correlates with intensity of feeling: the more intense the feeling, the more frequent the pauses. Duration of pauses correlates with mood: happy mood makes short pauses; sadness makes long pauses.

When speaking about Charleston, the presenter of The Daily Show interrupted the current of his speech in a quasi chaotic manner. Some word chunks had only one word, while others in the same paragraph had 11 [listen], and pauses didn’t occur in the expected places: sometimes he chopped a sentence right before the verb – “the depraved violence that we /…/ do to each other” –, or tore a noun apart from the adjective that modifies it – “the nexus of a just gaping /…/ wound”.

This lack of discourse planning signaled the strong emotional connection he had with his message – he was not simply reading from a ‘teleprompter.’ He seemed to be speaking heart to heart.

Mood governs the length of pauses. Happy feelings provoke some degree of tension. Because of that, the tone and intensity of voice tend to be higher (higher pitch and volume), and pauses tend to be shorter. On the other hand, sadness depresses a body: as movements are slower, voice tends to be lower in pitch and volumen, and pauses, longer.

The longest of Mr. Stewart’s silences that night took more than four seconds. More than four seconds silent in front of the camera. It worked. Dramatically. The long silence kept us hooked to his speech, ‘What’s he going to say?’ We heard his sadness, his despair [listen].

Flow

Mr. Stewart is able to speak fast. Very fast. But subtle signs of stuttering shattered his fluency: repetitions [listen], sound prolongations [listen] and episodes of larynx blocking [listen] tattled. We could hear his soul fighting his brain – ‘Should I use this word?’ –, and how he searched for the word that best translated his thoughts.

Lack of fluency signals authenticity: the speaker focuses on what he says and doesn’t avoid delivery errors. (A Spanish politician was said to fake his stuttering to sound more authentic to voters.)

Not only didn’t Jon Stewart avoid fluency errors, he didn’t hide them. This shows courage: By being vulnerable, by letting the audience watch his weakness, a speaker shows his self-confidence and strong character.

Changes

We heard Jon Stewart’s monologue as an on-the-spot speech – a creative discourse, as opposed to learn or read.

This impression, in part, came from the extreme changes his voice and speaking style underwent during the five minutes the monologue lasted. In some moments, the tone of his voice fell to a deep creak of 44 Hz.

(imagine you take a stick and make it run along a railing: a 44 Hz frequency is the equivalent of hitting 44 rods in every second).
Imagine you take a stick and make it run along a fence: a frequency of 44 Hz (Hertz) is the equivalent of hitting 44 rods per second.

But in some other parts he was mad with excitement and his voice reached high peaks in tone and intensity. When it went too high for his large – and maybe overused [listen] – larynx, only an almost voiceless shrill came out [listen].

Mr. Stewart’s an optimistic: he knew his voice wouldn’t live up, the same as he knows Americans “won’t do jack s***” about violence – “that’s us,” he said. But still, he kept trying – he spoke up.

We’ll always need people who keep trying.

And the Confederate flag is down.


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