Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Farewell, Jon Stewart.


Sixteen years. Where did the time go? When Jon Stewart took over for Craig Kilborn as the host of The Daily Show in 1999, he looked like he was being held hostage. Uncomfortable would be a word in a half. Who knew that within a very short period of time, he would make the show his own?

I'll be honest, I didn't begin to seriously watch Stewart until '03, so I can't comment much on those first four years. Perhaps that's just as well, for it was really around that time that Stewart hit his stride; a stride that saw him define an entire industry and launch the careers of some of the most talented people in comedy.  Steve Carell is an accomplished comedic actor, Stephen Colbert will be taking over The Late Show from David Letterman this September, John Oliver has his own show on HBO, and Larry Wilmore took over Colbert's time slot on Comedy Central with his own show. All four got their starts on The Daily Show and all four owe everything they have to Stewart.

The list of Jon Stewart's accomplishments is considerable. He had a wicked and biting sense of humor that could singe his targets like no one else. His favorite target for most of the last decade was George W. Bush. You could say the former president made Stewart a very wealthy man, along by the way with just about every late-night comic in the country. Another favorite target was the media, particularly CNN and Fox News.

But what defined Jon Stewart was his ability to interview his guests. Even in his earlier days, Stewart seemed to revel in this arena. He had a knack for cutting to the chase that would make Edward R. Murrow proud. Funny, for the host of a 'fake news" show, he accomplished more in a few minutes than the entire cable news industry did in 24 hours. His two best interviews, in my opinion, were the ones he did with CNBC's Jim Cramer after the '08 crash and HHS secretary Kathleen Sebelius after the disastrous Obamacare rollout. He literally tore the both of them apart.

And now it's all over. Tomorrow night will mark the last time Stewart hosts The Daily Show. For me it will be bittersweet. On the one hand, I, like most of the country, will miss him; Trevor Noah's got some huge shoes to fill. On the other hand, I can't help but feel that Stewart just gave up. Yes, he's the father of two young children  and yes, it's commendable that he would want to spend more time with them. But it's not like he was in the Navy serving on some sub in the South Pacific. The man worked a few short miles away from his apartment four days a week. Know any other multi-millionares who have their own TV shows AND three-day weekends?

So he was - how'd he put it? -  "slightly restless." At least that's what he said publicly. So what? Hey, Jon, try selling security hardware over the phone to locksmiths five days a week. Slightly restless? Hell, I'm exhausted come Friday.

Of course maybe the real reason for quitting was that he wanted to go out on top. He didn't want to be the next Leno or Letterman and get that tap on the shoulder; the same tap Carson got. There's an old saying - one that's predominantly meant for athletes, but also applies to entertainers, as well - that it is better to retire one year too soon than one year too late. Face it, Johnny Carson could've retired on his own terms but waited too long. So NBC made the decision for him. Stewart had to know deep down that that fate was awaiting him at some point regardless of how talented he was.

But whatever the real reason for his departure, Jon Stewart will be deeply missed. He didn't just break the mold; he created his own. Late night will never be quite the same without him. He took a network that had absolutely no exposure and turned it onto a household name. And despite what the far Right said about him, he was more than even handed when it came to dishing out his barbs. He pulled no punches and held back nothing.

Farewell, Jon Stewart. Thanks for all the laughs and the poignant memories.

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