Jon Stewart Exits The Daily Show at Exactly the Right Moment
I was a senior in high school in 1999 when Jon Stewart took over The Daily Show from Craig Kilborn, and I am a little embarrassed to admit I was initially skeptical of the transition. I had grown used to Kilborn’s “Five Questions” shtick (which would leave with him as intellectual property) and perhaps I bought into the poster-boy smile and the light hair on the brawny frame we had all come to expect from someone who would play the role of half nighttime talk-show host and half newscaster.
Enter Stewart, born Jonathan Stuart Leibowitz, the shorter-statured, Jewish kid turned young man from New Jersey whom we were used to seeing on MTV in jeans and a one-size-too-big leather jacket. He had grown up enough to put on a tie, sharpened his wit and rode his first couple years as host largely on the Dubya-isms provided by George Bush the Younger’s first presidential campaign. Notably, MSNBC and Fox News, whose polarizing political discourse we now take for granted, had only been around a few years by that time. As their content on this “real news” became more ridiculous, Stewart’s response was to shift the focus of his “fake news” from telling jokes about specific events to satirical commentary on the institution of television news media in the early 21st century.
Fear mongering on cable news had become so routine by Sept. 11, 2001 that almost no one on television news had anything left to say when something truly awful happened. The staff of “The Daily Show” decided it was in good taste to take a bit of time off from making fun of the news, and when they returned Stewart wasn’t just going to start cracking jokes like nothing had happened. Clearly the turning point in his career and the direction of the show, his heartfelt monologue on the World Trade Center attacks and the role of comedy in helping society cope with things that are truly horrible was such a testament of hope, wisdom, and humanity that all of a sudden, Jon Stewart the clown became Jon Stewart, the voice of reason.
For the next 13 and a half years, Stewart has continued to have a mix of cheerful and serious discussion on his own show, as well as making appearances to engage other journalists on their own shows, often with unpredictable results (Google “Jon Stewart Crossfire 2004”). All the while, his dedication to promoting a kind and just society has remained clear, as has his commitment to keeping his humor fresh. He has jump-started the careers of various talents with whom he has worked, and it is simply the right time to end his tenure at “The Daily Show.” News television isn’t a new joke anymore. He delivered the punchline, and the drummer hit him with a “Budump Chik!” We couldn’t possibly want him to just do it again.
Because of this, I am happy he has decided to move on. How lucky we were to watch a “simple comedian” completely uproot a cohort of dogmatic, self-important, rating-hungry wolves to become a role model for our generation. As for what’s next for Stewart, who cares? We know it will be something fresh that probably doesn’t even exist yet in form. It will make us smile, it will make us think—and in that we all need to take our own “Moments of Zen” and say to Jon Stewart: Bravo.