Jon Stewart signed off on The Daily Show last night, which, barring a surprise retirement from Conan O’Brien, ends a period of turnover in late night television. Over the last few years, all the long-time late night hosts have retired—except for Conan, who not for nothing has always drawn a younger audience than his peers—from Leno, whom no one misses; to Colbert, who’s coming back in a few weeks in a new form; to Letterman, whom everyone misses; and now Stewart, who some people will miss and others not so much. Jon Stewart’s Daily Show has been on for half my life, and has been part of my daily routine for pretty much that entire span. It kind of feels like when Dumbledore died (SPOILER ALERT), like the person I, and so many others, relied on to make the bad things less scary is gone and now we’re on really on our own.
The show was pretty much just an extended thank you to the people who worked with Stewart, with all of the former correspondents popping in to farewell their former boss—including a no doubt intentionally awkward bit with Wyatt Cenac—and then a long single-take tracking shot through the backstage to meet the crew, a blatant nod to Goodfellas, complete with appearance by Martin Scorsese. There was a brief montage of Stewart’s frequent targets giving him good riddance, including the CEO of Arby’s, closing out the show’s frequent bit mocking the bog meat sandwiches for which they’re famous. (Arby’s has actually been really game this week, running a commercial highlighting Stewart’s tendency to pick on them.) Like Letterman’s goodbye show, Stewart’s last night in the Daily Show chair wasn’t really about comedy, it was a chance to spotlight all the unseen people and contributors who made his tenure so great.
Mark Twain is generally considered the greatest American satirist, and I really don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that Jon Stewart is the greatest satirist since Twain. The only other person who comes close is Will Rogers, but Rogers didn’t define entertainment like Stewart has—he turned “fake news” from a parody concept into a platform that could affect how actual news gets reported. Trevor Noah has enormous shoes to fill, and everyone is wondering if The Daily Show under Noah’s command can ever be as good as it was with Stewart. We’ll have to wait and see, and undoubtedly the adjustment period will be rough. But different doesn’t necessarily mean “worse”, though certainly The Daily Show will never be the same.
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