Call him a comedian, call him a political satirist, call him an unabashed liberal. But to me, Jon Stewart is arguably the most influential comedian of our time.
Stewart leaves “The Daily Show” (11 p.m., Comedy Central) Thursday after 16 years with 19 Emmys for his blistering satires and holding politicians accountable. He turned a late-night comedy show originally hosted by former ESPN anchor Craig Kilborn (1996-98) into Must See TV, skewering politicians on the right and left. He wasn’t afraid to argue with President Barack Obama, members of congress or political commentators.
Here’s his final guest list:
Comedy pals Amy Schumer (Monday), Denis Leary (Tuesday) and Louis C.K. (Wednesday). Stephen Colbert, a “Daily Show” regular whose Comedy Central show was co-created and executive produced by Stewart, is expected to appear with other surprise guests on Stewart’s Thursday finale.
Since taking over in early 1999, “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” became a source of news and information for millions of viewers. Politicians sought his forum to reach younger voters. More than 210,000 people came to the National Mall in Washington, D.C., in 2010 when Stewart and Colbert co-hosted the “Rally To Restore Sanity and/or Fear.”
Twice the show won prestigious Peabody Awards, for its “Indecision” election coverage in 2000 and 2004. Twice the Television Critics Association (of which I’m a member) honored it for Outstanding Achievement in News and Information (2003, 2005), instead of giving the award to a traditional news show on ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox or CNN.
Stewart, who previously hosted a MTV talk show, has had great writers; an invaluable archive of TV news video to help him expose hypocrisies; and a deep bench of talented sidekicks (Colbert, Steve Carell, John Oliver, Larry Wilmore, Ed Helms, Michael Che, Mo Rocca, Samatha Bee, Aasif Mandvi, Rob Corddry, Lewis Black, Rob Riggle, Mo Rocca).
Remember when Al Madrigal interviewed Butler County Sheriff Richard K. Jones last October? He cleverly led Jones into saying that most illegal Mexican immigrants were “not wealthy,” and often beaten and abused in groups on their journey to cross the border. Which led to this gotcha exchange:
MADIGRAL: What are they yearning for?
JONES: To feel free.
MADIGAL: So you're saying there are tired, poor huddled masses yearning for freedom? And that's not what America is about?
JONES: (Glaring at Madrigal after he paraphrased the Statue of Liberty inscription): “That's not what I'm saying at all!!”
Not to be overlooked are Stewart’s talents as a performer. He delivers punch lines with just the right nuances, voice inflections, goofy faces, smirks or sarcasm. He’s a very gifted physical comedian -- without leaving his anchor chair.
Or his skills as an interviewer. The New York Daily News praised Stewart by saying: “If Johnny Carson didn't like you, he froze you out. If Letterman or most other hosts didn't like you, they made fun of you… Jimmy Kimmel will sometimes prod guests and newsmakers — but he moves on too quickly. Stewart on the other hand, lingers and probes. He’s so good at it, last year NBC News brass seriously considered him to host “Meet the Press.” He declined.”
Who will you miss more: David Letterman or Jon Stewart? For me it’s Stewart. Letterman was a creative genius who made late-night TV fun, then faded into a funk (the classic bits he replayed his final months prove my point). Stewart changed late-night TV with his dead-on satires, transforming it from a comedy show to insightful news, information and commentary.
A grateful nation says thanks for the memories, Jon. You’ll be missed.