Today, on Thursday, August 6, 2015, Jon Stewart, the wry and passionate host of The Daily Show will leave his post. And while there are undoubtedly many people who will celebrate his departure (I’m looking at you, Hannity and Friends), do not count me among their ranks. For years, Jon Stewart has been a sort of hero, not only for myself, but for countless teenagers and twenty-somethings around the country. Though today’s episode will undoubtedly honor this late-night legend fittingly (as the month long 24/7 online marathon of his tenure certainly has), I feel the need to give him my own farewell.
My relationship with The Daily Show dates back about 5 or 6 years. As a young teenager living in Everytown, USA, newly minted on the high school debate team, I needed some perspective on the country’s problems. My upper middle class, suburban childhood was hardly affected by global issues like economy, elections, and various civil rights movements. We were in a bubble. The local news was always some human interest story while national networks resorted to aggressively partisan (or in CNN’s case, incompetent) excuses for journalism. I spent my time devouring The Office and Scrubs; I didn’t have time to watch and dissect Meet the Press and Fareed Zakaria in the same way my parents did. I had to sleep late on Sunday mornings, after all. So I did what I’m sure every one of us would do over the next few years: I started watching Jon Stewart.
Right away, something was different. Jon had leanings, sure, but not toward a political party. He was partisan in the most relatable way possible – he was partisan toward fairness and humor. He might have been worth 50 million dollars, but he screamed everyman comedian more than Jeff Foxworthy could ever hope to. I began to watch his older appearances on shows like Crossfire and read up about him on the internet. Then, we hit the 2008 election.
It’s no secret that Stewart’s biggest gold mines were Fox News and the political machines. So when my first election as a semi-politically conscious person (the 2004 election, when all I had learned from my neighbors was “John Kerry is a flip flopper”, doesn’t count), he had everything I needed. There’s no point rehashing his greatest moments from that election hundreds of media outlets around the country have done that. What is important to note is that I never felt like he was trying to spin things. He picked on everyone from McCain to Clinton to Romney to Obama. But if he was hard on the candidates, he was especially hard on the networks, who did their best to twist every little detail to fit their narrative or increase viewership. His Glenn Beck spoof in particular was a standout. He intentionally wanted to tell you that there wasn’t really such a thing as unbiased news coverage on television (he was openly “progressive”), but he unintentionally made you realize that he was wrong about that, because we had The Daily Show.
For a show that aired on Comedy Central, Jon Stewart did a whole lot of stuff that wasn’t comedic — Not because he was some hack or melodramatic sap, but because he actually cared. 9/11, the Ferguson riots, the Charleston Church Shooting — Jon Stewart was inexplicably at his best when he got serious. Stewart’s ability to be eloquent, thoughtful, and impactful were more than just admirable— they were qualities for all of us to strive toward. What other man could seamlessly switch from penis jokes to insightful looks at the U.S. criminal justice system? From making fun of insane gun activists through absurd interviews to directing important movies like Rosewater? Even though Jon has fostered a whole new generation of comedians with heart (Colbert, Carrell, Cordry, Oliver, Helms), it’s quite likely we’ll never see another Jon Stewart1
Every so often, a person comes along that acts as the “voice of a generation”. For the old guard, there was Walter Cronkite. Even farther back it was Hemmingway, Twain, Dickens. I think it is only fitting that, for a generation growing up in a world increasingly defined by recession, tragedy, and conflict, Jon Stewart, a comedian, took the mantle. He interviewed diplomats, activists, international leaders, and even the President. He stood up for the voice of the masses, a fight that was defined by his 2010 “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear” with Stephen Colbert. He taught me what it really means to embody fairness and accountability, and to stand up for what you believe in. Most importantly, though, he showed me how to laugh when the pain was strongest.
Yes, as teenagers we tend to lionize our heroes. There’s no doubt I’ve done that with Jon Stewart. He has occasionally managed to get away with avoiding issues by musing, “I am just a comedian, what do I know?” He occasionally makes mistakes, as we all do. But I still don’t think my admiration is misplaced. Because although he always maintained that his obligation did not extend beyond making people laugh, he ended up accomplishing something much bigger: keeping people honest. So on behalf of every kid born between 1990-2000, I thank you, Jon Stewart. This is it, your moment of Zen.