JON’S FINAL MOMENT OF ZEN

We’re All Going To Miss Jon Stewart, But The Best Thing Fans Can Do Is Give Trevor Noah A Shot At Filling The Daily Show’s Chair

(Originally Published on Hautnews.com September 28th, 2015)

Last August I was reminded of how much I hated, how much I truly despised returning to school at summer’s end when I was a kid. I remembered how I would look at the calendar hanging on the wall and watch helplessly as the remaining days marched past, the knowledge that the good ones were persistently running out, until one fateful morning I would wake up and there would be a yellow school bus with my name on it coming up the road. No, I wasn’t returning to school, but it’s the closest feeling I can compare to how I felt August 6th, Jon Stewart’s final day as host of the Daily Show.

When former Daily Show correspondent and current Nightly Show host Larry Whilmore announced to his audience that Jon was leaving the Daily Show, I nearly broke my remote changing channels, fingers crossed and uttering a few prayers that it was all some cruel joke (I had missed that night’s episode of the Daily Show but was planning on catching the midnight rebroadcast following Whilmore). But alas, Jon announced to a disappointed world that he was indeed leaving the airwaves and he offered his staff and his audience what was the first of many heartfelt and genuine thanks.

And my countdown began.

The dwindling days between then and Jon’s departure were marked by a handful of hiccups. Stewart didn’t know at the time of his announcement when his last show would be and his fans had their fingers crossed it would be as long as possible. That hope was laid to rest in April when he announced that August sixth would be his final show. There was the announcement in March that Trevor Noah would be replacing Stewart, taking over the big chair in late September (an announcement that had millions scouring the internet for as many details as they could find on the little known South African comic). Otherwise it was a grim march of days that seemed to hasten the closer August sixth got.

It was the Anti-Christmas.

I discovered the Daily Show shortly after it arrived on Canadian airwaves in 2003 and I was stunned by what I saw. I had never thought of comedy and satire being effective political commentary until I saw Stewart. He wasn’t just making jokes and cracking funny, he used comedy (and the occasional rant) to sculpt a new way to view the situation. He used absurdity to liberate the narrative from the biases of the traditional media, laying all the cards on the table. He was the smart ass sitting in the back of the class delivering sharp insights cleverly disguised as wisecracks. He was the one pointing at the Emperor and laughing at the absence of clothes while the rest of the world nodded along obediently, complimenting the Emperor on his fashion choices.

Stewart (and the many talented people who worked with him) transformed the Daily Show into a cultural and political force, a refuge to hide from the pundits and the talking heads more interested in defining the point of view rather then reporting the story. You could see powerful politicians, the biggest movie stars of the day, Nobel Prize winning humanitarians and bestselling authors all in the same week. President Barrack Obama was one of Stewart’s final guests, and in all he made six appearances on the Daily Show (five as President). Stewart made the Commander in Chief squirm more then once with tough questions and the fact that Obama returned to Stewart’s guest chair knowing that it wasn’t necessarily friendly territory spoke volumes about the respect the powerful had for Stewart.

When Stewart inherited the anchor chair from original host Craig Kilborn in 1999, the show flirted with three hundred thousand viewers; his final appearance attracted 3.5 million sets of eyeballs in the United States alone (and that wasn’t even his highest rated episode). When the Daily Show began successfully migrating to international markets, it helped build Comedy Central and it isn’t a stretch to say that without Stewart, the world might not know the comedic genius of Stephen Colbert or Amy Schumer or Key and Peel. During his final show, the reunion of sixteen years worth of correspondents and contributors was a parade of comedic stars, all of whom crediting The Daily Show for launching their careers. It’s little wonder that Comedy Central reportedly offered Stewart an annual salary of fifty million dollars to stay as host, much more then any of the mainstream news anchors he mocked and parodied.

Stewart quite often found himself in the crosshairs of mainstream media, high-ranking politicians and corporate tycoons, yet he never shied away from the attention, usually using hilarious but logical rebuttals to put the offender to further shame (and despite crucifying Fox News over the years, he always contended that CNN was the worst player in cable news). His opening monologue for the Daily Show’s first episode following the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York is considered one of his best moments and his recent commentary following the Charleston shootings and America’s institionalized racism and rampant gun culture, a raw and unfiltered emotional dialogue with his audience, was perhaps the most poignant and honest moment of television I have seen in recent memory.

His absence has left a profound void on television, and quite simply, Stewart is irreplaceable. I think I can safely speak for most of my generation when I say that I have never missed a television personality so deeply.

But that is all in the past. I’ll be tuning in to watch the first episode of The Daily Show with Trevor Noah tonight, as a new era dawns for a show that redefined satire in an increasingly polarized political and cultural world. While there will be growing pains and bumps in the road, I have confidence that the man Stewart chose to carry the torch will succeed. Noah can’t replace Stewart-no one can-but from what I’ve seen of the newcomer he’s smart enough not to try and will instead focus on finding and forging his own voice. He deserves a chance to be heard fellow Daily Show fans, and I’m sure our patience will be rewarded in the long run (he wouldn’t have been chosen otherwise).

It’s what Jon would want, and we all owe him that much for the sixteen years of laughter he gave us. Consider it Jon’s final moment of Zen.

Shayne Kempton

 

 

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