For someone who doesn’t like change, this has been a challenging year in late night talk shows. In the last year, Jimmy Kimmel and Conan O’Brien will be the only constants in late night having kept the same job at the end of 2015 that they had in the beginning of 2014. That’s a lot of upheaval in a small amount of time and it’s kind of stressing me out.
The latest defector is Jon Stewart and this is also the change that hits me the hardest. I was pretty bummed out when it was announced that The Colbert Report was closing up shop, but that loss was tempered by the idea that I still had my beloved The Daily Show and Jon Stewart to ease my pain. Surely he wasn’t going anywhere; he’s sowed some oats taking the summer off to direct a film, but now he was back where he belonged as the head of a parody news program that was more reliable than the actual news. In fact, I’ve had tickets to The Daily Show several times in the last year but gave them up because it wasn’t a convenient time or because I simply because didn’t feel like schlepping down to the City once again. I assumed that I had all the time in the world to see Stewart behind the desk.
You know what they say about people who assume…..
I have been a fan of both The Daily Show and Jon Stewart, individually, for as long as I can remember. I am one of the few people who has been watching The Daily Show pretty consistently since it debuted back in 1996. In those days, the show was hosted by Craig Kilbourn and while it has always been a satire of news programs, the vibe and tenor of the show were decidedly different from its current incarnation. The show was less focused on politics as its bread and butter and Kilborn has a very different persona. I generally enjoyed it – I was particularly fond of Kilborn’s recurring segment “Five Questions” – but the show was nowhere near as great as it is today.
I knew Jon Stewart primarily from his various movie roles and his work with MTV. He always seemed like a smart and thoughtful guy, which was reflected in his humor. I liked him immediately and was a fan of pretty much everything he did; I may very well be one of the only people in America that legitimately enjoyed Death to Smoochy. I knew that he would he would break through eventually with the right vehicle, so when he was announced as the replacement for Craig Kilborn I was very excited at the prospect. I thought Stewart would do a great job, but there was no way to predict how perfect this marriage would actually be.
With Stewart at the helm, The Daily Show ascended to a whole new level. While the show had previously been an amusing diversion for me, it became required viewing once the format moved to a political focus and Stewart was able to infuse the show with his comedic sensibilities. Not only was the commentary more biting, but underneath all the jokes the show became a legitimate way to learn about politics and stay up on current events. Back when I was teaching political science classes, I was especially thankful for the show for engaging my college students in a way that made it easier for us to talk about things. I could start my Introduction to American Politics class my discussing whatever was on The Daily Show the night prior. It made my students not only more interested, but more knowledgeable about the government and they didn’t even realize that they were learning because they were laughing while they were doing it. Anything that would make my students participate in class made me happy, so I am forever indebted to The Daily Show for making my job a little easier. I don’t think it’s overstating things to say that the show has helped create a more informed citizenry; I may not watch the local or national news, but every day I make sure to watch The Daily Show. That’s partially due to the format and the writing, but a lot of the credit belongs to Jon Stewart. What he brought to the show completely transformed it into something quite spectacular. I think Elizabeth Warren said it best:
One of the great things that Stewart did while at The Daily Show was to build up a formidable team around him, so while it’s going to be an adjustment to see someone else behind the desk I have no doubt that The Daily Show will be able to live on. With John Oliver over at HBO, there isn’t necessarily a clear heir apparent, but I’m pulling for Jessica Williams to take over. She’s young, she’s smart, she’s proven that she is fantastically funny and it would add some much needed diversity to late night programming. I think she’d do a great job and while she’d never be able to fill Stewart’s shoes I think she’d be able to make the show her own. I’m not looking forward to Stewart leaving, but I know he loves the show enough that he’ll leave it in the best possible shape possible whenever he does step down. Thankfully, I was smart enough to snatch up tickets to the show moments after it was announced that he is leaving, so I’ll finally be able to see Stewart in his element live and in person.
It’s the end of the era for sure – the idea of the 2016 election without Colbert and Stewart is a little heartbreaking – but I look forward to seeing what else Stewart plans to do. Being on TV 4 nights a week for 16 years is a hell of a grind and he’s certainly earned some time off. It would be selfish to wish him to stay if he’s ready to move on. So for now, I’ll just take a little more pleasure in the shows that we have left with him and hope for the best for his replacement. Hopefully some truly colorful characters will run for office in 2016 and make the new person’s job a lot easier.
(And if Comedy Central is reading this – I’m open to moving to New York)