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A Moment of Zen: How Matt Jones’ Jon Stewart Turn Brought Fresh Air to the Hot Air of Fancy Farm

While the first Saturday in May presents Kentucky to the world in its most luxuriously resplendent garb, the first Saturday in August casts a truer light on our Commonwealth and what our politics has come to be.

Fancy Farm weekend, named after the tiny, far-western Kentucky hamlet in which St. Jerome’s Catholic Church hosts the “world’s largest one-day barbecue,” represents politics at its very best, or at least the way we’d like to remember it.  While the picnic is the main feature, for the past few decades, a full weekend’s worth of satellite activities have sprouted up all over the Jackson Purchase: meet and greets, watermelon smashes, bean suppers, country ham and egg breakfasts, even skeet-shooting competitions. There’s plenty of hand shaking and baby kissing and bear hugging and back slapping and tall-tale telling. Most importantly, it’s the only weekend of the year that the state’s most remote region receives the full attention of the big-city slickers, power-wielding politicos and hangers-on, as well the budget-depleted Frankfort press corps.

Unfortunately, when the main speaking event begins on Saturday at 2 p.m., we sometimes see politics at its very worst.  Many years, Fancy Farm becomes a hyper-partisan, name-calling screaming match, a microcosm of everything Americans hate about politics.  During key election cycles, even before the headlining speakers clear their throats, the furious chanting, the blindly acid-laced yelling begins in full force, unleashing vocal abuse on partisan enemies. As an eight-time veteran of that stage, I can witness that the noise is so intense that it becomes nearly impossible to hear yourself speak. (Check out this 2003 clip in which this soft-spoken Jewish pischer was transformed into Elmer Gantry.)

This year’s version did not veer far from the script, although it seemed a bit tamer than usual, perhaps because the speechifying was so predictable.  Every Democrat called out GOP gubernatorial nominee Matt Bevin for his mendaciousness, usually culling quotes from Senator Mitch McConnell’s 2014 campaign against him. (“East Coast con man” and “pathological liar” headlined the party’s talking points.) Meanwhile, every Republican made sure to mention President Barack Obama’s name at least in every third sentence when describing the policies of the Democrats’ standard bearer, Attorney General Jack Conway, or the rest of his ticket.

But for a ten minute oasis at the top of the program — usually reserved for patriotic platitudes and bland historical remembrances — Fancy Farm was actually fun.  The jokes were actually funny.  And Kentucky’s favorite sports broadcaster — previously termed a motley amalgam of Bill Simmons, Keith Olberman and Howard Stern — morphed into a Bluegrass version of Jon Stewart.

Not all of Fancy Farm host Matt Jones’ jokes succeeded. (His standard bit about Rick Pitino lasting for 15 seconds was a bit too blue for the family-friendly church grounds.)  But his incisive satire, softened by good-natured humor and near-perfect comedic timing, was often both cleverly thought-provoking and LOL funny.  Jones landed jabs against the state’s leading Republicans, teasing McConnell for his discomfort with Bevin, Bevin for his resume fabrication, and Senator Rand Paul for his absence, peculiarly in light of his flailing presidential bid. Democrats too felt his friendly wrath: Conway for his 2009 Fancy Farm outburst, Governor Steve Beshear for his un-Democratic-like record, and Secretary of State Alison Lundgeran Grimes for her continued unwillingness to admit that she voted for Obama.  As usual, Jones’ jokes revolved around a familiar theme: that politics has become a game a verbal dodgeball; as campaigners blow hot air while avoiding the tough questions, the people lose. (Watch the whole thing here.)

Most impressively, Jones owned the Fancy Farm stage — more than any of the powerful and prominent figures that I’ve seen take that mike.  With his imposing frame, booming voice, and celebrity countenance, he was able to quiet the raucous chanters dexterously with clever quips or smiling pleas.  He elicited a rare, moving, bi-partisan moment when he elegantly introduced the GOP’s Lieutenant Governor nominee Jenean Hampton as history’s first woman of color to address the picnic.  And while some may have blanched when he all-too-familiarily referred to a presidential candidate as “Rand” and the second most powerful pol in the country as “Mitch,” I found it a refreshingly populist note amidst a crowd that often takes itself far too seriously.

Make no mistake: Matt Jones is my friend, and he pays me to write this column. (Although he never edits me or tells me what to write.)  But the very reason that I step out of my comfort zone on a weekly basis to share my pointy-headed thoughts to a rowdy KSR nation was on display yesterday afternoon in Graves County.  By stepping out of his comfort zone to discuss  politics instead of sports, Jones is not just simply opening up the public square to a new generation of Kentuckians who have eschewed our mainstream political media.  More significantly, Jones’ persistent scolding of pols to answer his questions — to quit the spin, to cut the crap — is injecting a desperately needed virtue back into our political dialogue: honesty.  And he’s doing it at a time when many Americans are so ravenous for pols to tell it like it is that they’re either falling for false prophets like Donald Trump, or abandoning politics all together.

Matt Jones calls himself an entertainer, not a journalist, and he’s the first to concede his biases. (He may be the only person ever to admit to voting for Barack Obama from the Fancy Farm stage.)  But as he dips his toes into the political waters, he’s providing a unique platform where Kentuckians can actually have an unfiltered, brutally honest, and often engaging discussion about the issues that really matter.  And that really does represent politics at its very best.

Article written by Jonathan Miller

Jonathan Miller, The Recovering Politician (Twitter: @RecoveringPol), writes about the politics of sport and the sport of politics...and sometimes about bourbon. Jonathan has been elected twice as Kentucky's State Treasurer; practices as a crisis management attorney; authored three books on faith, public policy and crisis management; serves as a Contributor to The Daily Beast, played straight man on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart; reached the final table of the World Series of Poker; and with his summer camp sweetheart, raised two remarkable twenty-something daughters.

26 Comments for A Moment of Zen: How Matt Jones’ Jon Stewart Turn Brought Fresh Air to the Hot Air of Fancy Farm

  1. Hahaha!
    8:06 pm August 2, 2015 Permalink

    I love it when this site obviously trolls the Right! 😀

    Now, just sit back and read the comment section fallout…….

  2. Good Times Good Times
    8:08 pm August 2, 2015 Permalink

    Mic, not “mike”.

    Good piece though, Matt did a great job!

  3. Alex
    8:23 pm August 2, 2015 Permalink

    That 15 second joke did not belong there! There was no place for it, Matt showed how far from pro. He is. A Rex joke would have been better.

  4. Bruce
    8:32 pm August 2, 2015 Permalink

    What a yawn Johnathan and your hero is from the cover of Mad magazine.

  5. ????
    8:34 pm August 2, 2015 Permalink

    Why would anyone be ashamed to say they voted for Obama? He’s done nothing but great things for the U.S. and that Iran deal was a home run. I am proud to say I voted for Obama and I havent regretted it for a second.

  6. Thomas G Yancey
    8:48 pm August 2, 2015 Permalink

    I agree with ????. Matt did a good job he took shots at both parties. Matt is not a comedian, but he did good

  7. Podcast
    8:57 pm August 2, 2015 Permalink

    I could care less about politics but I thought Matt actually made 10 min of the broadcast watchable. Very funny, as a KSR fan I feel you represented well.

  8. Dennis Foust
    9:00 pm August 2, 2015 Permalink

    I think you are spot on. Matt Jones was funny, and no, the Pitino line did not get much traction. But he did take pot shots at all, both Republican and Democrat. I thought he did a good job.

  9. Grateful Cat
    9:01 pm August 2, 2015 Permalink

    Whahhh Whahhh… this is not a political site… whahh whahhh. Matt Jones is a big meanie Democrat. Whahh Whahh. Keep it to sports …. whahhh whahh.

  10. I Love It
    9:59 pm August 2, 2015 Permalink

    The speech was the greatest thing I’ve ever heard, and this write up was the best thing I’ve read all day. Congrats to you both.

    Was that better, Jon?

    • bouzoukiman
      12:08 am August 3, 2015 Permalink

      Not only that, but one day, just maybe one day, Matt will be president and Jonathan will be his VP, and the lion will lay down with the lamb because of them!

  11. This is a test to see if this login is working. Whether it is or isn’t, GO CATS!!!

  12. Angelo
    12:04 am August 3, 2015 Permalink

    Matt for Govenor!

    • Angelo
      12:06 am August 3, 2015 Permalink


  13. new dreamer
    1:53 am August 3, 2015 Permalink

    Johnathan calling Trump a false prophet while Obama and his Obamites have indebted our nation to the tune of 17 to 20 trillion dollars if not more and has most likely bankrupted the greatest nation in the history of the world. He has declared war on the traditional American family by his ungodly support of same marriage and has funded PPH not only to murder innocent babies (real human beings) but also to sell their aborted body parts to satanic research doctors. God help us.

    • theSkinny81
      2:06 am August 3, 2015 Permalink


    • Ken Grizzle
      7:32 am August 3, 2015 Permalink

      Indebted our nation to the tune of 17-20 trillion dollars!!!…………………….finish weaving your basket and take your meds.

    • satcheluk
      1:16 pm August 3, 2015 Permalink

      Kind of like if you died, leaving your wife and kids on the verge of bankrupcty (ie Bush) and they wound up delcaring bankrupcty a few years later and someone blasting your wife for being irresponsible.

      Maybe she was just irresponsible for having married you (ie country voted for Bush). Don’t shoot the guy who comes to clean up the mess.

    • new dreamer
      5:44 pm August 3, 2015 Permalink

      Grizzle & satcheluk ; Bush started the fire along with all the republicans and democrats who are securing their long term careers through the tax payers of our nation, but don’t fight an out of control fire with gasoline as Obama has done. You can’t spend your way out of debt.

      I believe I’m right that Obama inherited a 3 trillion debt, but you can in no way justify what he has done in just 7 yrs of his financial leadership of our nation. The blind are leading the blind to indebtedness that we might never overcome.

  14. clhcat
    9:16 am August 3, 2015 Permalink

    Last night I posted a comment that called Matt on the carpet for calling other folks opinions “idiotic”. I said Cawood would never have said that….my comment was removed. I’ve said before that if you post it….its fair for me to comment on it. Obviously Matt disagrees. That is the mark of a socialist/communist…..silence the opposition. On another post, another writer called Donald Trump a “false prophet”. The Donald is just saying what a LOT of other folks are thinking and don’t have the guts to say.
    Matt, this “propaganda machine” you run here is nothing more than a toy for rich Duke grads or liberal inexperienced college boys to play on. Grow up. If you can’t handle a dissenting comment from and old Kentucky boy….what gives you the right to play politics at Fancy Farm?

  15. woohop1
    3:02 pm August 3, 2015 Permalink

    I echo the comments of clhcat………his point that Matt cannot handle dissenting comments is right on. Matt Jones, whose “leadership” qualities have all of his followers and worker-bees totally afraid to challenge his position on issues, and is a perfect representative of the “messiah complex”. Most amazing is how Matt, a product of Middlesboro(Eastern Kentucky) rarely if ever talks with conviction and pride about his mountain roots…….no, instead, he has adopted a left wing, socialist opinion to hide behind. Sad, sad, sad.

    • jaws2
      3:34 pm August 3, 2015 Permalink

      I agree, and the site has become his launching pad for political views. When is he going to hire a writer for National Review to become a contributor?

    • bouzoukiman
      9:42 pm August 3, 2015 Permalink

      Yep, my first comment that got deleted last night was simply “Yawn”. Then they deleted several others where I responded and not in a profane way at all. Look, Matt owns this site and he can ban whomever and whatever opinions he wants, but for someone who comes on so strong with his opinions, both political and sports, he has the thinnest skin.

  16. Just for old times sake, “Yawn!”.

  17. GroundControlToNumber9
    12:35 am August 4, 2015 Permalink

    Our society has agreed in a majority to be more accepting of genuine man to man expressions of love.

    However Jonathan, coddle a mans balls in public is still only legal in San Francisco.

    Send John Stewart a sincere apology and try to keep it clean this time, um k?

  18. nunya
    1:01 am August 5, 2015 Permalink

    I am sick of any opposing ideas being deleted on this site…typical of what oppressive Marxist regimes do by the way…I am just DONE with it…if they are so right, then why are they so afraid of debating ideas? I am DONE. I suggest all of us who do favor the Constitution and The Bill of Rights and a limited federal government…all of us who do favor individual rights and freedoms such as The Founding Fathers did…perhaps it is time we get our UK news elsewhere. Boycott the site. Boycott the radio show. Hit ’em where it hurts…the wallet. It is not good, BUT…none of us told Matt Jones to turn his successful UK SPORTS SITE into some sort of Liberal Propaganda site, now did we? Hell no. How about leaving out the politics and sticking to UK sports? Now there is an idea. But- if not? Then let Matt turn away half or more of his audience and suffer the consequences of such a decision. If he wants to be about Liberal Left politics over UK Sports? Have at it. It is still a free country…for now. But not for much longer I’m afraid. But we do not have to support this crap by clicking and/or listening either…speak up and speak out…stand up…before these people make it a “crime” in this country to do so…scary indeed.