Back in 2004, Jon Stewart asked Jerry Seinfeld when he thought he should retire from The Daily Show. “You can’t,” he said. “You have one of those shows you have to do until you’re dead. It doesn’t peak, it’s just good, and good and good.”
Eleven years and several grey hairs later, Jon Stewart is finally calling it quits. The final episode of The Daily Show airs August 6th, and the show has been preparing viewers for the end of an era with a 42-day marathon of every single episode of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
In this rather extreme exercise in time wasting, I’ve realized just how much the show has changed over the years. Suddenly it didn’t seem so strange to me that I had enjoyed this topical news parody as a child. In 1999, the show wasn’t the pointed political satire that we know and love. It wasn’t the bastion of liberalism that delights millions of viewers on a nightly basis. It was a goofy show on basic cable with little relevance, and it aired six times a day. Stewart wore over-sized suits as he riffed on the daily headlines, and his correspondents shared their experiences of going undercover at cheerleading camp. It bumbled along, year by year, finding its voice.
As the early 2000s passed us by, Stewart reported on absurd elections, natural disasters, and national tragedies. He established a rapport with his viewers as we collectively experienced two wars, hoing in on his voice. He began to speak his mind, sowing the seeds of his feud with Fox News that would come to be much more explicit. By 2001 the show won its first Emmy. A few years later and it was clear that The Daily Show wasn’t just making light of current events, it was actually shaping our historical narrative. While Stewart insists that he is nothing more than a fake newsman and a comedian, it is clear that he has enlightened and mobilized a generation of politically aware young people. And he did it all while making us laugh.
Over the years his criticisms became sharper as his personal views surfaced. He continually calls out the media and our elected officials. This change in attitude is visible when one compares his sheepish interview of Ann Coulter in 2002, to his pointed debates with Mike Huckabee in 2008 and 2009. He suspends his smug sarcasm for the sake of debate.
Early in his tenure, Stewart was less sensitive when discussing marginalized groups, The Daily Show had virtually zero diversity. Wyatt Cenac recently shared his experiences with Stewart on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast. He recalls a heated argument in 2011 over a racially sensitive depiction of Presidential Candidate Herman Cain. In 2015 we see a more diverse Daily Show as Jon Stewart has grown more sensitive and self-aware—though one may argue, there is certainly room to grow. This growth is reflected in his coverage of sensitive topics like the media coverage of Caitlyn Jenner, in which he exemplifies the double standard Jenner now faces as a woman, let alone a trans woman.
Using humor and sharp wit, Jon Stewart has transformed the landscape of late night television. He will be missed, but he has helped to cultivate the new forefront of political satire. John Oliver, Stephen Colbert, and Larry Wilmore will surely continue this good work.
What were some of your favorite moments from Jon Stewart on The Daily Show? Let us know in the comments below.