Jon Stewart says Goodbye to The Daily Show
We all knew this day would come, but it was always easier to pretend like it never would: Jon Stewart is stepping down as the host of The Daily Show. Certainly all the old cliches about the end of an era should and will be tossed around when discussing Stewart leaving. But that seems to ignore the larger, more important point about Stewart and The Daily Show. Namely, for the better part of the last 16 years, Stewart has, with very few exceptions, displayed an uncanny knack for balancing on the very thin lines between earnestness and anger, comedy and seriousness, real news and fake news. It has been a delicate act, and if it proves anything at all, its that in Jon Stewart America had not only a comedic genius capable of taking a satirical news show to unseen, unimaginable heights, but someone with the poise and grace to do so with intelligence, wit, and sophistication now so uncommon in mainstream news.
In an age where the term “news” seems less and less reliable (see Brian Williams fakery regarding his experiences covering the Iraq War, or just about any 24 hour news program), The Daily Show’s reputation for fake news became more and more ironic. Increasingly The Daily Show, as a direct result of Stewart’s leadership, became trusted in ways no other comedic, satirical show had done before. Sure, SNL had The Weekend Update segment, just as news satire had always existed. But what is unique about The Daily Show (and by extension Stewart, because to speak of one is to speak of the other) is the reputability of his broadcasts, the earnestness with which he lambasted the “real” news and the intelligence he did it with. That Stewart’s shadow looms so large is for a variety of reasons. He is, at his core, a genuinely hilarious comedian. But he also cultivated an aura of trustworthiness over the years through meticulous work dedicated to making The Daily Show the best it can be.
It is not controversial to say that The Daily Show’s best years, at least in this form, have passed. That is not to say Stewart isn’t still the genius he always was, and he still seemed capable of bringing his A game whenever he needed to. And it’s a sure bet he will shine until his final broadcast. His coverage of the Eric Garner case in New York or the midterm elections proved that he is still every bit as talented as he always was. Rather, what seemed to change was us. It seems more and more that Stewart’s legacy was always fated to be leaving at the time he decided that America no longer needs his services anymore. We may still want them, absolutely, but Stewart is smart enough to know when he should call it quits.
That we want Stewart, but perhaps no longer need him is evidenced by the fact that for the past year acts like Last Week Tonight with Daily Show alum John Oliver have found new ways to investigate the news, or perhaps the lack of news going on in today’s media. Oliver positively killed it this past year, and in doing so exposed some of the shortcomings of Stewart’s program. Namely, The Daily Show seemed all about outrage and solely dedicated to exposing hypocrisy, especially in these past few years, and it came at the expense of in depth discussion. But perhaps, if The Daily Show taught us anything, it was to start seeing that hypocrisy for ourselves. Over the past 16 years Stewart has been unwavering and unafraid of rooting out the double standards in our politics and our coverage of them, but at the point where we can see that now ourselves, or maybe we are starting to learn to see them, isn’t it really the perfect time for Stewart to leave? Isn’t this what he has been asking of us all along, to view things critically, to demand accountability, to endorse logic and reason over soundbites and fear?
And he leaves the fake news genre is stable hands. Stewart has always had a keen eye for talent and helped cultivate it into something more. Acts like Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert, Ed Helms, Rob Corddry, Samantha Bee, John Oliver, and even Olivia Munn all owe some debt of gratitude to Stewart. And they would be the first to admit it. Stewart elevated their talent without compromising his own and let them leave for larger things when they needed to. Whoever succeeds Stewart will undoubtedly have large shoes to fill, but I would bet that Stewart will have a hand in picking his successor. It shouldn’t be forgotten that The Colbert Report and all it’s glory were a direct result of Jon Stewart (he remained an executive producer for many years on the show). His influence is everywhere, his legacy massive and his impact has been nearly unparalleled in the world of politics, media and comedy. America loses a giant this year, but we can be thankful we got to laugh with and learn from him for as long as we did.