Stewart shocked Colbert's audience when he suggested it isn't far-fetched at all to believe that the pandemic originated from a lab in Wuhan, China. "Science has, in many ways, helped ease the suffering of the pandemic, which was more than likely caused by science," Stewart said, suggesting that the virus was man-made.
The comment earned him laughter from the crowd at the Ed Sullivan Theater in New York, and a confused look from the host.
Colbert then asked Stewart: "Do you mean perhaps there's a chance that this was created in a lab?"
"A chance? Oh my god, there's a novel respiratory coronavirus overtaking Wuhan, China, what do we do? Oh you know who we should ask? The Wuhan novel respiratory coronavirus lab," Stewart responded, drawing more laughter from the audience. "The disease has the same name as the lab. That's just a little too weird."
Stewart then compared it to an "outbreak of chocolaty goodness near Hershey, Pennsylvania."
"What do you think happened?" Stewart asked, rhetorically. "I don't know, maybe a steam shovel mated with a cocoa bean. Or it's the f****** chocolate factory."
At some point in the show, Colbert joined Stewart in mocking the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which is at the center of speculations that the virus escaped from a lab. (Related: Experts provide key pieces of evidence supporting coronavirus lab-leak theory.)
"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," Colbert said.
"Austin, Texas has thousands of them that fly out of a cave every night at dusk. Is there an Austin coronavirus?" Stewart shot back. "No there doesn't seem to be an Austin coronavirus. The only coronavirus we have is in Wuhan where they have a lab called - what's the lab called again, Stephen?"
"The Wuhan novel coronavirus lab," Colbert answered.
Stewart's rant didn't sit well with Washington Post columnist Paul Waldman, who penned a piece the following day titled "Jon Stewart's rant is a reminder: Don't rely on celebrities for COVID-19 theories."
"It seems like a long time ago now, but Jon Stewart used to be an immensely important figure sitting at the place where politics and pop culture meet," Waldman began his op-ed about the former "Daily Show" host.
"But these days, he's retired and only emerges from time to time, and because he always delighted more in skewering Republicans, it was a bit shocking to see him go on an extended rant on 'The Late Show with Stephen Colbert' about the coronavirus lab-leak theory."
Waldman claimed that the lab-leak theory "has become associated with conservatives trying to prove that former President Donald Trump was right about everything" and knocked the liberal comedian for suggesting "it’s the only plausible explanation for the source of the virus."
"This provides an important lesson about celebrities: You shouldn't get your political opinions from them, or your scientific opinions either," Waldman wrote. "I know what you're going to say: 'That’s just because this time a liberal celebrity is taking a position you don't like!' But it’s not that.”
The columnist noted that celebrities like Stewart are not experts, and that "the reason we listen to experts is that they know more than we do."
"It feels good when a celebrity you admire agrees with you, and it feels bad when the same person has values that differ from yours," Waldman continued. "And if they know more about some things than others, then we have to understand where we shouldn't listen to them and where the limits of their knowledge are."
Waldman seemed oblivious to the fact that the Washington Post has changed its stance on the lab-leak theory. The news outlet declared in a headline back in February last year that "Tom Cotton keeps repeating a coronavirus conspiracy theory that was already debunked."
But it issued a "correction" last month following recent developments that helped legitimize the China lab origins. (Related: Australian national broadcaster embraces covid lab-leak theory as Biden administration takes closer look at the possibility.)
"Earlier versions of this story and its headline inaccurately characterized comments by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) regarding the origins of the coronavirus," the correction read at the top of the report. "The term 'debunked' and The Post's use of 'conspiracy theory' have been removed because, then as now, there was no determination about the origins of the virus."
Follow Pandemic.news for more news and information related to the coronavirus pandemic.