It’s been a little over 24 hours since Jon Stewart gave his final send-off as host of The Daily Show, the comedy/news institution that he served as the host of for 16 years, and it’s hard to say if he’s already a distant nuicance in the rear-view mirror of the fast-paced 24-hour news networks he’d been skewering, or if the man truly left an impact on these lie-mongerers. I also can’t say I’ve quite been feeling a distinct welling of emptiness in lieu of Thursday night’s farewell episode, but maybe that’s how I should feel. After all, Jon Stewart isn’t dead. Hell, The Daily Show itself isn’t even dead, as Trevor Noah will be taking the reigns in late September. Also, Stewart stated in one of the segments from Thursday night that what he hoped to start with The Daily Show was an ongoing conversation about news and politics and the America we live in, and that conversation isn’t dead either. Still, for me, and I imagine a lot of likeminded people my age, Stewart and The Daily Show have always been a vital and hilarious respite from this grim world, and I imagine his absence is one that will be felt as a slow burn, as the months go by and we have that feeling of disappointment every time some insane, unjust thing is happening in the world, and we realize we won’t have Stewart to help us simultaneously laugh at and make sense of it.
I’ll just be upfront about this, I am not a news guy. Maybe it’s due to my own narcissism and the fact that I have a hard time seeing beyond whatever insignificant crap is going on in my own life, and instead looking at the seismic shifts that are going on in the world at large. Or maybe it has to do with the news being for the most part altogether depressing, while political news in our age is not really news because it is often pushing some sort of agenda. Which of course we all know because The Daily Show has found so many endlessly brilliant ways of pointing this out, mostly in its depiction of a network I won’t mention, but starts with an “F” and ends in an “ox News”. Yet because The Daily Show was able to so exactingly filter the news through a language I can understand (comedy), for the past decade and a half, The Daily Show has been one of the few things keeping me in touch with politics and the news while in the process watching Jon Stewart and his staff, as he put it Thursday night, have a lot of fun sorting through the bullshit.
Also, yes, I was admitting with that last paragraph that I was one of those 18-25 year-olds that got all of their news from The Daily Show instead of getting it from a credible news source. And much like a lot of people my age or older, college was a big time in which I spent a lot of time watching The Daily Show, as the show seemed to reach one of its peaks during the 2008 election which coincided both with my first year of college and having a fair amount of time on my hands, while also not having a TV in my dorm room. Fortunately, I had all The Daily Show I could possibly need due to their novel idea of releasing every episode on to their website after it aired. However, this was just one of the many peaks of my Daily Show viewership, as it had been a show that I would often watch with varying amounts of dedication, practically ever since its initial conception with Jon Stewart as host.
The first peak of my Daily Show viewership, and for that matter first memories of the show, are quite vague at this point, but happened around the time of Indecision 2000, which makes me feel a bit old, but then again I was 11 at the time and probably didn’t understand half the references. I’m not sure what initially drew me to it, but I’d have to assume I stumbled on to the show while watching late night South Park reruns during the summer, and luckily they’d replay the night before’s Daily Show in primetime so I could get what would be my first taste of late night comedy. And in addition to that, now that I think of it, The Daily Show was my first introduction to this thing called satire. Which is not something I’d ever really thought about, but I have to assume on some level was a pretty big moment, discovering that The Daily Show‘s poking fun at the powers that be was something you could get away with on television. Because you go through your early childhood without questioning the decency or morality of mom, dad, the principal, the president, etc., and here was a show that said it was ok to question everything. Granted, the early ’00s version of The Daily Show was a bit sillier and less biting than its later incarnation (it’s hard to imagine anything like Produce Pete on the last decade of the show), but in a way it allowed for a lot of its younger viewers to grow ideologically along with the show.
It feels like this should be the part where I mention how The Daily Show started to go downhill in its later seasons, since something this long-lasting should’ve surely lost some steam at a certain point, but I really can’t. I’ll admit the last few years I haven’t been as ardent a viewer, but every time I return for an episode or two, the show seemed to maintain a pretty staggering amount of quality considering it’d been putting out four half-hours a week for 16 years. Though I do imagine having to keep up with its delightful sister show, The Colbert Report from 2005 to 2014 may have fueled some fruitful competition among the writers of both shows to put out the best thing possible. And sure, the show has had have a few patchy spots, among them the congratulatory nature of its post-Obama election coverage, but didn’t it earn it after all those years of having to put up with the unending nightmare that was the Bush administration? Also, the show’s consistency is a big reason why Louis CK hailed the show as “one of the great achievements in comedy” during his last appearance on Wednesday, and because there was so much of this show, and so much of it was so good was I think a big reason why it was such a potent resource for bored college students like myself.
But most of all, watching that final edition of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart that aired Thursday night, I was reminded that any success the show has had was surely indebted to just how many talented people have been involved with the show over the years. It’s hard to point out the contributions from any of the writing staff, since being a late night staff writer is always a thankless job, but clearly there’s been a strong core of writers there that have only become a more and more well-oiled machine over the years. Of course, that final episode saw pretty much every Daily Show correspondent coming back to say farewell, including the comedy superstars (Stephen Colbert, Steve Carell, Ed Helms), the whatever-happened-to-them’s (Mo Rocca, Vance Degeneres), the correspondents destined for some sort of success, but not so much at The Daily Show (Josh Gad, Olivia Munn), and the guy I like but didn’t remember ever being on The Daily Show (Matt Walsh). And watching all these funny people dance and celebrate to The Boss singing “Born To Run” was a nice reminder that this was a heartfelt farewell, but was by no means a funeral service. Due to Jon Stewart and The Daily Show giving these people their first breaks, all of them will go on doing stuff while even The Daily Show itself will go on doing stuff after this week. And whether this show during Jon Stewart’s tenure ever really did or didn’t make an impact on the world at large, regardless, the man clearly has given a lot to this show and to its viewers. For that, I think the least we can do is to just keep questioning the bullshit, and to try and continue the conversation he started with us into the impending Trump administration and beyond.