When Jon Stewart announced that he would be retiring from "The Daily Show" during Tuesday's live taping, audience members and later on the millions of viewers watching could only hope it was just another joke. However, those waiting for a punch line should get comfortable.
After a 17-year reign as the host of the heralded satirical nightly news program, Jon Stewart has said, "I don't have any specific plans. Got a lot of ideas. I got a lot of things in my head. I'm going to have dinner on a school night with my family, who I have heard from multiple sources are lovely people."
Known for its absurd interpretation of international news, the show quickly became a daily roast, which served up politician kebobs every night on Comedy Central.
The network released a statement today confirming Stewart's impending departure. Part of the statement read, " … His comedic brilliance is second to none. Jon has been at the heart of Comedy Central, championing and nurturing the best talent in the industry, in front of and behind the camera …. "
Stewart, who has earned and kept the trust of a loyal fan base with his acerbic humor and irreverent take on the political landscape around the world for the better part of two decades, has helped to launch the careers of many comedians including Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert and John Oliver.
You may have heard of them. One went on to star in the major hit NBC sitcom, "The Office," the other has run a wildly successful late night show called "The Colbert Report" and will be soon taking over "The Late Show With David Letterman" and the third is embarking on his second year as the host of the HBO news satire program, "Last Week Tonight."
These three men are all immensely talented, hard working comedic forces. But the other thing they share is an alma mater. They are all graduates of The Jon Stewart Comedy School. Although not an official university, much to the chagrin of many burgeoning, young comics who would probably steal medicine from sick, old ladies for tuition money, the halls of "The Daily Show" have served as a kind of breeding ground for comedic talent.
Stewart was not shy about his Judaism on the show: he hosted guests like Borat Sagdiyev, offered sarcastic commentary on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and joked about President Barack Obama's "scaled down Channukah party." Born Jonathan Stuart Leibowitz, Stewart showed many times that he had no qualms teasing his own tribe. He adopted a stage name, he's said, because his given one was "too Hollywood."
Equal parts clown and concerned civilian, Stewart elevated the genre of late night talk shows by bringing late night entertainment to the forefront of media news. Starting out as a stand up comic with a wry sensibility for political commentary, Stewart did not just poke fun at the news, he delivered it.
Stewart's propensity for parody did not hinder his ability to convey information in an astute and often enlightening way. As a native New Yorker who was raised by a couple of Jews with moderate to right leaning views (no they do not watch FOX, let them live), it was soothing for me to have a worldly, erudite, ceaselessly hilarious voice that leaned more than a whiff to the left to tune into every night. Oh yeah, I happen to be a comedian.
Stewart's had an unparalleled ability to feed both sides of the brain, the one that longed to laugh, and the one that longed to think. People began to turn to "The Daily Show" as a venerable news source. For some, Stewart's salty, incisive political rhetoric served as their sole dose of current events.
And he did not just spew ire and castigate from the safety of his comedy pulpit. He faced the subjects of his jokes. Appearing on news stations like CNN, The O'Reilly Factor, CNBC and engaging in fiery, incensed debates with news anchors and politicians, often on their own turf, Stewart did not balk at confrontation, he chased it down.
Though equipped with a barbed tongue, Stewart has also revealed a softer side on the show, including his open display of sorrow after 9/11 and a tearful moment when he announced he would be retiring from the show yesterday.
Through this delicate balance of parody and poignancy, Stewart built an empire for late night entertainment news. The big question is who will take over the kingdom Stewart has molded?
I for one would like to see a queen take the throne.
"I'm not going anywhere tomorrow, but this show doesn't deserve an even slightly restless host, and neither do you" Stewart said when addressing the audience yesterday.
While sad to seem him go, Stewart fans are no doubt eager for what will come next.