At a time when everyone, their mother, their neighbor, and their precocious 9-year old nephew is writing about the loss of Jon Stewart as host of The Daily Show, apparently I too need to throw my 1 cent into the pile. [Recent idea inflation has made $.02 worth about $.01]
Rather than bemoan the state of the news media and how Jon is leaving us stranded smack in the middle of what is promising to be the clown car version of American political races, or write a snarky diatribe focusing on how Jon and his snarky diatribes lowered the level of political discourse, I am going to talk about what this show has meant to me and how I am going to be affected by this vacancy in late night television.
Because in the end, I’m just selfish that way.
I remember watching The Daily Show when good ol’ Craig “Craiggers” Kilbourne was the host. Correspondents mocked the average dumb American and celebrities came on to answer 5 questions that were often amusing, occasionally rather funny. Each show would end with a Moment of Zen, usually something so utterly weird and strange and dumbfounding, it would knock you into a state of, well, Zen. Then it was announced that Craig would be leaving. He had found greener pastures on network television. Comedy Central was not yet the juggernaut of Amy Schumer, Key and Peele, and the Broad City gals, but rather the trashbin made mostly of reruns of HBO comedy specials, terrible B-grade comedies, and the beloved Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist. You understood why Craig was leaving.
And who was the young upstart coming in to take his place? Why none other than stand-up comic and failed MTV host Jon Stewart. Even though I didn’t have HBO at the time, I knew Jon had received a lot of attention around his time on The Larry Sanders Show. I knew his stand-up and had stayed up late watching The Jon Stewart Show. I had hope.
Within that first year or so of Jon hosting The Daily Show, I had gone to see 5 live tapings. Thanks to rather loud and raucous laughter, I would end up being singled out by the warm up guy. Normally that would make me die of embarrassment, but since that meant a quick intro to Jon when he would come out on stage, I survived. It helped that I, like Jon, was a member of the Tribe and we like to find our own in a crowd.
Under his leadership, The Daily Show started to find its humor beyond mocking the average, dumb American. When Jon begged the hosts of Crossfire to stop hurting America, Jon and his staff worked to achieve the opposite. And I knew that every night, or at least most Monday through Thursday evenings, I would find salve to my outrage at what was going on in our country: a war, or three, going on that I didn’t quite see the reason for; a president that I was convinced had learned how to speak English phonetically; a Vice-President who personified all that was dark and unholy about the military-industrial complex; and a gaggle of news media outlets that didn’t seem to get that they had a job to do beyond grab ratings.
I had Jon to thank for bringing all the amazing TDS correspondents into my life. I still cannot help but laugh when I think about every “Slimming Down with Steve” segment or the infamous show when Steve Carell actually got drunk.
Rob Corddry, Larry Wilmore, Lewis Black, Kristen Schaal, Sam Bee, Jason Jones, frakking living legend John Oliver. My life became a veritable cornucopia of comic genius thanks to The Daily Show.
And as my life progressed, I needed that comic genius.
For a variety of reasons too numerous and complicated to explain, I moved cross-country several times in my 20’s. NY to LA. LA to NY. There and back again, as Bilbo Baggins might say. And while I wasn’t always sure what state I was in, I knew that I could rely upon Jon and co. to educate, entertain, and enlighten me.
Not enough can be written about Jon’s first show post-9/11. The raw emotion, the shell-shocked rage, the somehow not unbelievable optimism – I felt as though he was summing up for everyone in New York at the time something that still to this day remains unfathomable. And god bless him, he was one of those who helped me find the humor again.
I moved home as an adult, once again living under the same roof as my mother. Not that we needed it, but The Daily Show provided us with common ground. No matter the petty argument, once we heard the opening of strains of “Dog on Fire,” we would prepare to giggle as Jon would go into a perfectly terrible George W. Bush cackle. I forgot to take out the garbage or I left my wet towel on the floor of the bathroom? Never fear – Lewis Black was on TV, giving us a shared laugh at the most necessary moments. In fact, my mother found Lewis Black oddly sexy, something to this day I am not quite sure I understand. And when I moved to Boston, every morning my mother and I would get on IM and inevitably the conversation would start “Did you see Jon last night?” and we would proceed to dissect the funniest moments from the previous evening’s show.
For 16 years, the show remained a staple in my daily life. And when things in my daily life would get particularly dark, this show was a constant source of something funny. The first time Lewis Black did “Back in Black” after my mother died, I laughed and cried and then laughed again, knowing how much she would have loved the segment. When I faced yet another move to another city, I was able to bond with someone over the fact that she understood me when I only ever referred to him as Jon, as if he were just someone in my social circle rather than THE Jon Stewart. And when earlier this year, Jon announced that he was leaving, I knew that friends in many states would be there for me as I envisioned a Jon-less future.
In theory I was already a grown-up when Jon took over TDS, but in reality, I grew up watching him behind that desk. For all these years, I have been able to hear about a news story and know that later that night it would be praised or meticulously ripped to shreds by someone I respected. In this show and its fans, I found others who believed that it’s OK to be angry at the frequent and astounding injustice we see in this world and that it is OK to laugh when idiocy and hypocrisy and blind hatred keep rearing their ugly heads.
Because there is always something to laugh about.
This is what I think I will miss the most when Jon leaves on Thursday. He is not and has never been perfect, but he was there. He made me think. He challenged me. He introduced me to new people and new ideas, and he made me question things that I knew I knew.
But mostly, he made me laugh. He made me laugh when I didn’t believe I wanted to or even think I that could. It’s as simple as that.
Trevor Noah – the ball is in your court.