It’s kind of easy these days to forget that Jon Stewart was not the original host of The Daily Show. Well, by the end of this year, he won’t be the host at all anymore.
From 1999 to 2015 (!) Stewart helmed what turned into a massively influential show that blurred the lines of comedy and entertainment on the one hand, politics and hard news on the other hand, and a real look at actual culture on the other other hand. Sometimes it seemed like Stewart was the only one asking hard questions of public figures, as he was lampooning the soft-pitch reporters who took what those same officials were spoon-feeding the “real” media. He skewered the media more than politicians, to my recollection, and if it seemed like he picked on Fox and Friends a whole lot, the problem was that Fox and Friends delivered him such a rich multiplicity of targets. In what I consider a particularly fine act of public service which a comedian could have rendered the body politic, Stewart’s appearance on CNN’s excerable shoutfest Crossfire may not have killed that show, but his direct accusation to the hosts that they were affirmatively harming the country delivered the coup de gras, and in so doing steered actual political debate shows away from people shouting over one another back towards people talking to one another (I don’t claim it’s perfect yet by a damn sight). Stewart was a good example, too: in some ways, a Daily Show interview with Stewart was the best and fairest place for people, even those who didn’t have opinions that melded nicely with Stewart’s liberal persona, to give air to their thoughts: virtually every guest, people ranging from sitting Presidents to standup comedians, was given ample time to speak for themselves in their own words. He broke Stephen Colbert, Steve Carrell, John Oliver, and Aasif Mandvi into the big-time. Larry Wilmore is on his way now. And along the way, Stewart never lost sight of what his show was really about: finding humor in a sometimes bleak world.
He’s going to be a tough act for someone to follow.
Burt Likko is the pseudonym of an attorney in Southern California. His interests include Constitutional law with a special interest in law relating to the concept of separation of church and state, cooking, good wine, and bad science fiction movies. Follow his sporadic Tweets at @burtlikko, and his Flipboard at Burt Likko.