I don’t think anyone could have foreseen in 1999 that not only would Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” become a huge influence on our political climate and popular culture, but that its second host would become one of the biggest names in the media industry. Jon Stewart was never a journalist, but he sure was a great anchor of a fake news program that skewered bad journalism and both sides of the political punditry spectrum in a way that had hit a nerve in our culture. And yes, I’m well aware he skewered one side more than the other.
I remember when Stewart took over the show, after Craig Kilborn walked away from the program and into permanent obscurity (well, he did appear during Stewart’s final episode), and thought he kind of didn’t fit with the show’s then-format of mocking nightly magazine shows like “Dateline.” That format sure changed, over time, into something very different. And that format will change again when Trevor Noah takes the seat at the desk in September. It’s a show that allows for such changes.
Stewart’s entrance to the show came at the right time, a time when the rumblings of partisan politics was on the rise with the 24-hour networks. And he showed us how ridiculous things were getting. For 16 years, he and his crew lampooned, mocked and exposed how screwed up a lot of our media landscape had become. Sure, he bashed Fox News quite a bit, but he also bashed CNN and MSNBC too. No 24-hour news personality was safe from being the butt of the joke on any given night. And that was a great check on the balance of what people thought they could get away with on national television. You fudge the facts, you got torn down in a 5-minute monologue or interview. Like what happened to Jim Cramer.
The biggest criticism I’ve had in regard to “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” was when I began hearing people saying that’s were they got their news. It troubled me as much as when people talked up Fox News or MSNBC as their main source for information. And I think that troubled Stewart for a long time as well. He was not a reporter, he was a comedian. He was telling jokes. He was making fun of the news media, politicians and so on — and somewhere along the way, his influence on issues and culture seemed to grow, whether he liked it or not.
He and his show introduced us to other great comedic minds: Stephen Colbert, Steve and Nancy Carell, Ed Helms, Jessica Williams, John Hodgman, Jason Jones, Samantha Bee, Mo Rocca, Rob Riggle, Dave Attell, Aasif Mandvi, Vance DeGeneres, Matt Walsh, Lewis Black, ect., ect. It’s a very impressive list of some amazing comedians — and they all participated in some of the greatest parts of “The Daily Show.”
Aside from making fun of politics, some of the best moments of “The Daily Show” were the ridiculous jokes that came out of left field. Like Stewart’s strange and unexplained ragging on Arby’s.
And now Stewart has stepped down. He made an impact on our culture. I’ve enjoyed the show since its start in 1996, and will continue to watch with its third host. His presence will be missed, but I am interested in seeing what he does next.