Sixteen years never felt so short, but it’s with a heavy heart that we say so long and farewell to Jon Stewart as he sits behind the desk as The Daily Show‘s host one last time on Thursday August 6th, 2015. It’s bittersweet, for many reasons, chief among them the notion that though Stewart will no doubt go forth and create something of substance we’ll flock back to, but the familiarity and seeming ubiquitousness of The Daily Show with Jon at the helm will be sorely missed. Even when Jon took personal time jon stewartaway from the program, whether it was vacation or to direct a film (go see Rosewater!), and one of the correspondents took over hosting duties there was still this “gentleman’s agreement” between the audience and the show that Jon was coming back. We got to see the proto-hosting abilities of Stephen Colbert and John Oliver emerge but there was always this sense that The Daily Show wasn’t really The Daily Show until Jon returned.

Of course that wasn’t always the case.

While we see The Daily Show as a satirical powerhouse, the original concept of the show was much more in line with Saturday Night Live‘s Weekend Update – news with punchlines – combined with a Tonight Show celebrity interview segment. Even when Jon took over hosting duties from Craig Kilborn in 1999, The Daily Show didn’t carve out its place as cable’s most trusted news show until the clusterfuck that was the 2000 Presidential Election. The insane yet hilarious coverage and commentary provided by Jon and his team of correspondents featuring Stephen Colbert, Steve Carell, Vance DeGeneres, Nancy Walls, and Mo Rocca set the new tone for the show and propelled it into the politically-apathetic hearts and mind of a new generation of high school and college students in need of their own Walter Cronkite.

jon stephen star warsThat’s not me being hyperbolic, by the way. Jon Stewart is to my generation what Walter Cronkite was to my parents’ generation. It would have been so easy for Jon to treat the hosting gig as just that and keep it in line with most comedy shows, but whether through his own desires or the demands of an audience in need of an iota of honesty, he and the show’s writers and producers turned it into something more. As the political and media landscape turned dark and ugly, Jon was there to offer a comedic palate cleanser that didn’t resort to condescension or fear-mongering to manipulate the audience. Jon did something news channels like CNN, FOX, and MSNBC didn’t – he treated us like we were intelligent, he respected the viewers as people and respected his position as the jester poking fun at royalty.

I was in high school when Jon started hosting The Daily Show and I can say without any hesitation that, to this day, he’s still my most trusted source for objective discussion of the news and media. Yes, he has his own agenda and his own biases but what I’ve always respected about Jon is his desire for discourse. Some news outlets bring people on their shows to yell at them and attempt to dominate the conversation; Jon Stewart brought people on to talk to them. For him it was about looking at both sides and finding common ground or, at the very least, understand where the other side was coming from. His friendly olive branch, dailyshow_middlehowever, didn’t stop him from turning it into a sharpened spear when certain guests underestimated his intellect and his ability to work the room in his favor.

The three most notorious cases were his appearance on the how defunct Crossfire and guests of The Daily Show Jim Cramer, host of the also defunct Mad Money, and Betsy “Death Panels” McCaughey. In the case of Crossfire and Mad Money, both shows took huge dives in ratings after Jon conversed with their respective hosts. And by “converse” I mean “ran circles around them intellectually”, though it became very obvious by the end of his “discussion” with Cramer that Jon was taking very little joy in using clips from the man’s show against him to make his point. Towards the end, Cramer physically sighs after yet another order from Jon to show footage. Betsy McCaughey’s appearance was one of those rare moments in television, other than watching audition tapes for American Idol, where I started to feel sorry for the guest. Brought on the show to talk about the language in the early draft of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act that supposedly mentioned “death panels”, McCaughey brought a large binder containing the bill, but neglected to mark where the language could be found. As she attempted to find it, Jon talked with her but McCaughey tried to ham it up for the audience by diminishing the importance of appearing on a comedy show to talk about an issue concerning the federal government. The audience wasn’t buying it, but Jon showed patience as she continued to thumb through the bill. Eventually, he had to go to commercial and when they returned, McCaughey still hadn’t found the statement that justified her coining the term. Instead, the two talked around the bill as if she’d come on the show prepared for a real discussion.

jon wavingIn all three example, Jon Stewart was underestimated by the “other side” and in all three examples he showed just how much he shouldn’t be underestimated. Yes, he still maintains that his job is about putting comedy first, and there are certainly plenty of moments that prove him right, but the audience is in on the joke. We know where his passion is because he’s not particularly good at hiding his emotions when it comes to certain topics and people. It’s because of Jon Stewart that we’ve been introduced to so many amazing comedic voices. It’s because of Jon Stewart that more veterans have access to medical care. It’s because of Jon Stewart that Jason Jones went to Tehran to talk to the real people of Iran, not just the religious fundamentalists most news outlets were showing as the only representation of the country. It’s because of Jon Stewart that we had at least one place to go where we trusted someone not to lie and manipulate us for the sake of ratings.

When Jon Stewart steps down on Thursday, there’s no telling what the future of The Daily Show will be. We’ve been asked to give incoming host Trevor Noah a fair shot and I’m sure many of us will continue to tune in if only to see how well he fares. That doesn’t mean Jon’s shadow won’t linger. For nearly twenty years he was ours, so getting over his absence might take a while.

But here’s to you, Jon! Looking forward to the next adventure!

And now, your moment of Zen.

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