There’s a need in me to synthesize what I’ve seen tonight, August 6, 2015: the Republican party had a debate among ten of their seventeen primary candidates, followed immediately by Jon Stewart hosting his last episode of The Daily Show.
It was notable that Stewart did not engage in much comedy about the debate itself. Obviously the show is taped earlier than the debate, so there was an ongoing gag about that. The debate was ripe for ridicule, though, and the viewing audience was, for the first time, made to realize that this man (and his writing staff and correspondents) wasn’t going to be there each night to make sense of it all.
Trump was ludicrous in so many of his comments that one moderator gave an clearly-visible side glance because of his frustration. One candidate insulted Christie for hugging Obama, to which he replied with “9/11”. The bogus Planned Parenthood videos made fetuses more talked about than Iran, and one candidate proposed fetal due process as a justification for controlling women’s bodies. Questions were surprisingly pointed for Fox News, but dodged equally well so that nothing of value was said.
It’s not as if Stewart is the only person who knows how satire works. My Twitter feed was overflowing with snide remarks, jokes, and lamentations at the state of political discourse at the event and more broadly. But I still easily imagine The Daily Show grabbing the clip of Megyn Kelly introducing the next debate topic as “God”, with Stewart facepalming and cutting to an amusing graphic. It’s a language we’ve come to understand.
The Daily Show is a form of satire, entertainment, and news that helped to define how I think of those subjects. It shapes what I expect from other news outlets as well as comedy.
I don’t brush off bullshit I hear from Fox News or other outlets anymore. It’s a force that needs to be confronted and combated. Stewart’s show was tireless in calling them out.
I also have waning interest in comedy that doesn’t speak truth to power. A huge part of Stewart’s comedy had a point, whether it was revealing absurdity, highlighting hypocrisy, or exposing ignorance. Anything that does the opposite disgusts me.
The Daily Show was an institution. I was raised on it. From high school in the early oughts to college, Stewart and Colbert were a part of my routine and life. I haven’t been a constant watcher through their entire runs, but I’ve been and will continue to be a lifelong fan of their work.
Hell I dressed (and more importantly acted) like Colbert for Halloween one year, and I edited his Wikipedia page a lot before I went to college.
So many comedians I love to see came out of The Daily Show’s machine. In new shows or stand-up, I recognize performers as former correspondents and am drawn to their sensibilities and style.
The show helped me form many of my political leanings today, but it’s also done so in a way that allowed me to change beyond the bounds of the show. When Stewart or his writers picked the wrong battles or objects of ridicule, I wouldn’t follow along.
The biggest thing I’ll miss is just Stewart’s presence. I’m not even imagining humor when I say that. He and his writing staff were just a force, clearing out the fog of nonsense that permeates a lot of otherwise important discourse. It was cathartic.
There’s a part of me that wants to be like him: a force for good, underneath the entertainment. I want to believe in something so strongly that I’ll commit to it for that long and shepherd others through it. I don’t think right now that I’m fueling my passions.
(Another thing I’ll miss is the chance for just ONE guest to actually manage to get Stewart to sit down before they do. That was kind of a Thing for him.)
The biggest thing I won’t miss is the audience. I felt like too often they had an overly simplistic response (though maybe that’s just what crowds do). This was especially noticeable and egregious in interviews with either friendly or hostile guests.
Stewart often took guests to task, for better or worse. He tried to get something new from them, or to get an idea through to them. The audience would show their liberal hand too frequently and too often to the point where it halted good discussion. This applied to Obama as much as McCain. You could see annoyance in Stewart’s behavior sometimes.
As Stewart ended his Daily Show run, he emphasized that is was not the end for him: it’s a pause in a long, ongoing conversation. But things do end, like this particular role he’s had in so many of our lives. (Same with Colbert.) Now it will change and morph into something new. Someday in the future, it will change again to be only memories, which is also okay.
We have Last Week Tonight now, in which John Oliver leans more heavily on activism and critical analysis than frequent jokes. We have Stewart’s successor, Trevor Noah, and the promise of a fresh, young perspective. We have so many people influenced by Jon Stewart working professionally or just telling jokes into Twitterverse. This incarnation of The Daily Show lives on in its impact on so many, and now its creator will pursue other interests. Maybe they’ll be for himself, or maybe we’ll be delighted by a new and different return.
All I know is that for years I was happy to see him when I should have been going to bed. Maybe we’ll see each other again. Camera three?