(Only about five of which are represented here)
Jon Stewart has announced that he is leaving The Daily Show. I’ve been brooding for almost a day now over what to say, and I’m still not sure. First, the usual caveat: He owes me nothing, he has a right to happiness, thanks for the memories, blah blah blah.
This is like Michael Jordan retiring at the height of his fame — that is, if Jordan was being counted on to play in the Olympics the following year. An Olympics with consequences.
Losing Stewart so soon after Stephen Colbert is also, on an obviously smaller scale, like when my grandparents died five months apart. Too freaking soon! Stop taking wonderful people away from me, blasted year!
I rolled my eyes at myself as I typed that, just like you no doubt did when you read it. But, in a sense, it’s true. Stewart’s news yesterday made me realize something about myself that’s a bit unsettling:
The Daily Show is, in many ways, one of the few constants in my life over the past decade. It’s messed up, but it’s true.
In the past 10 years, I’ve lived in four cities and three states, often hundreds or thousands of miles away from family and friends. I’ve had great jobs, awful jobs and no job. I’ve lived on my own and at times I slept behind someone else’s couch. So many people have come and gone from my life equally fast. After 19 years of having everything in one place, the subsequent 16 years have been an era of new adventures and all-too-regular upheaval.
But no matter what my situation or proximity to family was at any given time, one guarantee was that, four times a week, I could watch The Daily Show. I first got into it during the 2000 election (though I’d known who Stewart was since his MTV days), and my desire to laugh, not cry, kept me a loyal viewer. I must have gone four or five years, at least, without missing a single episode. I eventually leveled off a bit, as I naturally do given my inclination not to be tied down, but it still remains a constant in my life. Even when I watched no other TV, I watched The Daily Show.
Back when people used to ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I always said, “Jon Stewart.” The show’s format and sensibility are basically what I wanted, and still want, out of life. It combines everything I’m into — current events, media, satire, intellectual jawing and the refusal to be taken too seriously. It’s ridiculous when it wants to be and on point when professionalism is in order. And, perhaps most importantly, it doesn’t always tell you what you want to hear.
Part of me wants the show to ride off into the sunset with Stewart, but I’d much rather it keep going with a new host, who will eventually mold it into their own. Because, really, the show should be bigger even than the man who propelled it into the stratosphere. But for that to work, it will need a host who is up to the challenge. Who? I don’t know for certain. While The Daily Show’s spinoff shows succeed via the quirks of their hosts, the show itself needs a chameleon leader, someone with real charm and a nose for news but without an overly distinct shtick. More so than its spinoffs, The Daily Show gets its comic mileage from the absurdity of real life, and Stewart’s everyperson reactions are absolute gold.
Of the correspondents on the show now, I think Jessica Williams could pull it off the best. But there are so many awesome options both within and in the wider world. The mind boggles. It’s a decision worth serious consideration. The wrong person could torpedo it. And that would be bad for America.
The Daily Show has endured because it is one of the smartest and most clever shows on television. It has had a select few worthwhile imitators and many more terrible ones. But its greatest gift to society is that it’s a guidepost (even if that was never its intent) in an age where people increasingly rely on their own facts. Far from being an artifact, the show seems to still be in its glory days — or indeed, to transcend the idea of glory days.
So, godspeed, Jon Stewart. Grrr, you lovable cultural icon.