This past Tuesday, late night in America permanently got a lot less funny.
Jon Stewart, the witty and innovative host of Comedy Central’s signature program, The Daily Show, announced he will walk away from his faux-newsroom after 16 years at the helm. Stewart reinvented satirization of the news when he took over the reins from Craig Kilborn as host, writer, and co-executive producer in 1999. Along the way, Stewart picked up 19 Emmy Awards as well as two Grammy Awards for audio readings of his books: America (The Book): A Citizen’s Guide to Democracy Inaction and Earth (The Book): A Visitor’s Guide to the Human Race.
By using his charming personality, Stewart dismantled every hint of ridiculousness he found in American political television media. He openly and candidly attacked political punditry on Fox News, MSNBC, and other (mostly conservative) networks by using material that was practically handed to him. Coupled with his wildly hilarious segments—such as the occasional feature with “Senior Black Correspondent Larry Wilmore”—Stewart simply uses the video clips from these news stations and calls them out for their, for lack of a better term, B.S.
He rarely let his thoughts go unnoticed. Stewart became a firebrand, using his jokes to nudge forth his backhandedly liberal ideologies. These views are largely in line with those of our generation—the Millennials—who choose to ride the donkey into many elections, even if it doesn’t lead to victory.
In many ways, Stewart shaped the Millennial generation just as much as his show reflected its views. Growing up, I received much of my political information from Stewart’s musings on The Daily Show. Sure, he made fun of the pundits. Some, such as Slate staff writer Jamelle Bouie, argue that his constant cynicism on the country, coupled with his sole criticism of the television media limits the creation of well-informed debate about politics. It isolates and ignores other forms of political discussion, such as op-ed pieces, and discourages the younger generation from talking about politics. Thus, it gives liberals as a whole a bad name.
I find it hard to criticize Stewart for focusing on what we see on TV. After all, that’s what is most visible to a majority of the country—realistically, how many casual Americans read about politics? Plus, considering how many pundits sensationalize what happens in current events, it only makes sense that Stewart comments on this ridiculousness.
At the same time, Stewart informed his viewers just as effectively as any news outlet—I’d argue that he did so in a more effective way. He better connected to his viewers by not directly talking at them but rather to them. And that helps The Daily Show with the audience it tries to connect to—liberals in the younger age bracket prefer to be talked to in this casual sense, while conservatives thrive off this sense of hostile debate. That makes him seem biased towards one side, but that merely reflects the audience he wants to attract, along with keeping his own priorities straight.
His influence in the media, though, goes beyond his own show. Through his multitude of correspondents, Stewart created a web of hilarious compadres. His proteges have branched off in their own media sectors and own political satires—such as the wildly successful (and now successor to David Letterman) Stephen Colbert and John Oliver, whose Last Week Tonight is taking off. Stewart’s show also sparked the rise of one of the biggest TV and movie stars of the last decade, Steve Carell. Stewart gave each of them their big breaks, watching from afar as they blossomed while he observed as a proud papa from behind the same desk.
And his resiliency to keep his viewers satisfied is undeniable. That’s what I remember most about him. He kept going when few others did. The infamous 2007-08 Writers’ Guild of America strike stole away my favorite shows—Friday Night Lights, The Office, even The Suite Life of Zack & Cody couldn’t survive. But he, Colbert, and Conan O’Brien returned to the air without writers, teaming up to create a wildly entertaining cross-program feud that begged to answer one burning question: who made Huckabee?
It’s hard to say where the Daily Show will go from here. Its format is successful enough that to end it with Stewart seems foolish. Picking his replacement represents more of a challenge. Could it be one of the long-serving correspondents, such as Samantha Bee or Jason Jones? Or will an outsider in the comedy world who now is looking for a job? (Not so subtle “hint hint” at Amy Poehler).
But it’s even harder to say where Stewart will go. His talent goes beyond the desk—he’s already ventured into the world of directing with his movie, Rosewater. Perhaps he has another project in mind.
I’m certainly excited to see what that place will be.
Featured Image Courtesy of Comedy Central