Jon Stewart was born in New York City and raised in suburban New Jersey. I was born in New York City and raised in suburban New Jersey. Maybe that’s why I have forgiven Stewart’s The Daily Show over the years for its many jabs at the Garden State (and for the record, there is fresh air and water in Bayonne, thank you very much).
Now, Jon Stewart, the face of American political satire, is vacating the Daily Show desk, perhaps to pursue a career in filmmaking, but definitely to spend more time at home. Although Stewart proclaimed he is not “going anywhere tomorrow,” he will step down sometime this year.
I would despair, but as much as Jon Stewart would like to leave, he can’t.
Stewart’s reach has extended far beyond his own show. The list of comedians who owe their success to him is just that—a list. Former Colbert Report and future Late Show host Stephen Colbert and current Last Week Tonight host John Oliver both began as Daily Show correspondents. Stewart’s production company Busboy Productions produced The Colbert Report, and HBO only considered offering Oliver his own show after he filled in as The Daily Show host during Stewart’s summer 2013 leave of absence.
Some other notable Daily Show alumni include, but are not limited to: Academy Award nominee Steve Carrell, current SNL Weekend Update co-anchor Michael Che, star of The Hangover and The Office Ed Helms, Nightly Show host Larry Wilmore, Flight of the Concords and Bob’s Burgers star Kristen Schaal, Fox NFL Sunday contributor and 21 Jump Street star Rob Riggle, and stand-up comedian Wyatt Cenac. This list does not include current correspondents like married couple Samantha Bee and Jason Jones, Aasif Mandvi, Al Madrigal, and the increasingly popular Jessica Williams. Jon Stewart has elicited your laugh more times than you have realized.
And his influence transcends international borders. Early on in his satirical news program al-Bernameg, host Bassem Youssef was dubbed “Egypt’s Jon Stewart”. In fact, Youssef admitted Stewart influenced his show’s format, and both hosts have been guests on each other’s shows. Youssef, inspired by Stewart, evolved into an icon for free speech. Though Youssef decided to end his show in 2014 amidst crackdowns by the Sisi government, he has maintained rapport with Stewart, recently appearing on The Daily Show to rant about U.S. involvement in the Middle East.
What’s next for Jon Stewart? And what’s next for The Daily Show? Stewart’s departure will not sink the institution of The Daily Show, and Stewart’s legacy will remain permanently tied to that institution. When Jay Leno left The Tonight Show (for the last time, he promises), Jimmy Fallon was able to adapt the show to his own talents. Fallon brought in Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels’s production company Broadway Video to produce The Tonight Show as it had produced and continues to produce Late Night. And when David Letterman leaves the Late Show this year, Stephen Colbert will follow a similar path. Letterman’s production company, Worldwide Pants, Inc., will cede control of Late Show to CBS, and Colbert will take over the creative reins.
Stewart’s situation is different. Comedy Central might ask Stewart’s Busboy Productions—which produced The Colbert Report and produces The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore—to fill the vacant 11 o’clock timeslot. Even if Comedy Central holds on to The Daily Show (since Stewart does not actually produce his own show), Stewart’s company will still produce The Nightly Show at 11:30.
No matter what happens, Stewart’s legacy will continue to shape his replacement. Comedy Central could keep the current Daily Show set and install one of the show’s correspondents as the new host, guaranteeing direct continuity of Stewart’s legacy. But even if The Daily Show receives a complete makeover, the new host will certainly base his or her show on the Stewart model—rant, correspondent remote piece, and interview, repeated Monday through Friday.
“Seventeen years is the longest I have ever in my life held a job by 16 years and five months,” said Stewart during his on-air retirement announcement. “But in my heart I know it is time for someone else to have that opportunity.” Who will that someone else be? Ignore the clamor for John Oliver’s triumphant return to Comedy Central and calls for comedians outside the realm of political comedy. Inevitably, whenever a late-night spot opens up someone suggests Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, and Chris Rock as possible hosts, but I doubt any of the three would abandon personal projects to host a late night talk show. Among the current crop of correspondents there appears to be no clear successor. Samantha Bee is the longest-tenured correspondent, but she lacks popularity. And it’s hard to judge the hosting merits of long-time correspondent Jason Jones based on a single episode, but his performance was mediocre. Correspondents Jordan Klepper and Jessica Williams are popular and talented but too inexperienced to run the show. Look out for the titular star of Comedy Central’s Inside Amy Schumer, as the network prefers to build from within and Schumer’s Judd Apatow collaboration Trainwreck will hit theatres this summer.
There is not much else to say about Stewart’s legacy that won’t be said in the coming weeks and months. But viewers must remember one epithet above all others: Stewart is a comedian. In October I proclaimed that John Oliver had “usurped” the genre of television news and political satire, and I stand by that claim. But Stewart cultivated the genre, and there is no denying that Colbert (until his departure), Oliver, and Wilmore have borrowed from Stewart to mold unique shows. Jon Stewart, a one time stand-up comedian, turned a late night talk show into a political institution. Presidents, secretaries of state, senators, congresspeople, businesspeople all flock to Stewart’s desk to seriously discuss politics with a comedian. And that’s why Jon Stewart isn’t going anywhere. As long as television news and political satire exists, so will his legacy.
So, sorry Jon, looks like you’re stuck.
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