The end of an era has finally come. Jon Stewart, after 16 years anchoring Comedy Central’s 11 PM timeslot, took his final bow last night. It’s tough to grasp this new reality in the television landscape. Simple math proves that I was nine years old when Stewart first took this gig, and as I grew up and really understood the person I would become, this man was always there. Granted, when I first became aware of him taking this show, I questioned why. Stewart to me was “that guy” who had bit parts in movies and always seemed to stumble with any reasonable success. My opinion of him didn’t really extend beyond basic awareness of his presence. Such is what happens when you’re a child who doesn’t understand the hidden value of certain people.
Of course, as Stewart evolved into the critically loved satirist most people view him today, The Daily Show’s influence grew with him. It’s insane how far reaching this program became. Truly no one can deny how effortlessly Stewart was able to reach a demographic that many other news organizations weren’t able to grasp. My age group, the ones who were right on the cusp of cultural awareness, were the exact people who gravitated towards Stewart because he always seemed like the person who just got it. He informed the masses, sometimes better than actual journalists, while being uproariously funny with his comments. Apparently this lead to a few secret White House visits where the Obama administration was hoping to tap into Stewart’s unique ability to connect with an elusive viewership. Talk about having some pull.
With so much done over the years (and little accomplished, apparently), it’s only fitting that this final episode was essentially a victory lap for the entire production. There was no news to mock or people to interview. Stewart frequently brought up the Republican Debate but that was nothing more than a means to keep the show moving. What we got instead was one massive farewell to a late night staple. Comedy Central gave Stewart a full hour to run his finale, and exactly half of that was spent on the many correspondents saying goodbye. Seriously, it was an uninterrupted 30 minutes with no commercials. That never happens! Yet clearly the network thought it was necessary, and they were absolutely right. Everyone dropped by, including Steve and Nancy Carell, Samantha Bee, Rob Riggle, Olivia Munn, John Hodgman, etc etc. The list is just too insane to go through here so you’re better off seeing it for yourself.
The two returners who definitely got special attention though were the men who Stewart groomed to success: John Oliver and Stephen Colbert. Oliver’s appearance was brief but poignant. Thanks to Stewart taking a summer off to film Rosewater, Oliver’s stance as a late night entertainer grew astronomically. He’s a viral video producing titan now and definitely walked onto the set with a bit of swagger. Colbert, as expected, trumped everyone. His partnership with Stewart was one of the best parts of Comedy Central’s late night and it’s only fitting that he get the most attention. Colbert definitely stole the show too. When Stewart intended to cut to commercial and the camera’s began to pan away, Colbert decided that he had more to say. What followed was an absolutely perfect speech on how much Stewart has influenced the lives of many and how the public really benefitted by him being around. You know this came from the heart too because Stewart is why Colbert is where he’s at today. Stewart, as I’m sure a lot of viewers were at this point, got very emotional. It was great.
Stewart wisely took the celebration one step further too. As great as the people were on our screens, it’s obvious that the real heroes are the grunts in the backroom. All of them were thanked for their hard work over the years and it was clearly done out of sincere gratitude by the host. Stewart proved during the writer’s strike that he can still keep his show going, but there’s no way he could have pulled off a decade and a half without an incredible team supporting him.
Naturally, the man who always had something to say couldn’t leave the night without speaking his mind one more time. It truly is fitting that he decided to have a monologue entirely dedicated to all the bullshit you’ll deal with in the world. Viewers of The Daily Show know that Stewart dealt with bullshit on a near constant basis. Bullshit will never go away too and he wanted to make that known. He may not be here to call it out anymore, but it’s up to us to make sure this work never dies. We all have the ability to sift through the crap to see the gold underneath, or at the very least, crap that doesn’t stink as bad. As a seemingly tireless crusader to getting rid of this bullshit, there was no way Stewart would go out without bringing it up one final time. Perfect quote on this: “If you smell something, say something”.
Yet is this really the “final time”? It is for The Daily Show, but not for Stewart. Retirement hardly means that he’ll be entirely out of the spotlight for the remainder of his years. This was wholly confirmed last night too. Instead of telling everyone goodbye, Stewart simply left things open by saying, “I’m just going to get a drink.” Then he cut to his final Moment of Zen, lead by none other than Bruce Springsteen. Now, who knows when he’ll come back from that “drink.” By that time Trevor Noah will likely have already begun making a name for himself hosting this very show. Eventually, in good time, Stewart will return in some capacity. He’ll be just as smart as ever, and those that watched him grow professionally as they did personally will welcome him back with open arms.
Luke Kalamar is Pop-Break.com’s television editor. Every Saturday afternoon you can read his retro video game column, Remembering the Classics. He covers Game of Thrones, Saturday Night Live and The Walking Dead (amongst others) every week. As for as his career and literary standing goes — take the best parts of Spider-man, Captain America and Luke Skywalker and you will fully understand his origin story.