In February, when Jon Stewart announced his retirement from The Daily Show, the 2016 election seemed like it would be a tedious 20-month-long slog. As the fight about Hillary Clinton’s email servers raged, Stewart seemed to be done already. And though the seeming drudgery of covering the election wasn’t the only factor in Stewart’s decision, it certainly contributed.
No one could have predicted the three-ring circus that Donald Trump (and the ensuing attempts to out-Trump Trump) would create by entering the race. Stewart has even half-joked about being tempted to stay in the election just to cover the madness.
Indeed, if Stewart’s last month on the air was originally intended to be a victory lap during a slow news summer, Trump has ensured that if anything, the many wonderful tributes to Stewart’s career are actually taking away from time that could have been spent on the wacky news. As much as the audience may love Stewart’s past, we still want him to make sense of the present.
But there is no backing out of this decision, and chances are Stewart doesn’t seriously want to change his mind. The fact of the matter is, the world (and importantly, the media) has changed — multiple times — since Stewart first sat at the desk. Stewart is picking the right time to move on.
When The Daily Show restarts with Trevor Noah after Labor Day, it will be less focused on fighting Fox News and more on mocking the fertile ground of Internet news. And honestly, it is a switch that may be a little overdue.
Stewart was almost always at his worst when he himself was a news item. When directly attacked by the media, the defensive Jersey boy in him would emerge. With an implied “Go F- Yourself” in his voice, he would lose the rational analysis that so often made him a treasure in insane times. Look to his response from last week to the revelations that he had had private meetings with president and you can hear that defensiveness when he says something as simple as, “The President of the United States told me to come over. What was I gonna do, say ‘No’?”
Stewart’s continued railing against the Bush 43 administration and the dishonest buildup that got us into the war in Iraq began to take on the air of Walter Sobchak and his endless Vietnam rants. Stewart’s recent interview/smackdown with former New York Times reporter Judith Miller stands out as a moment where you could feel years’ worth of anger melt into resigned frustration. Where would he go from here?
Even Stewart’s old nemeses, TV news and Fox in particular, aren’t what they once were. If you want to tackle the media in 2015, the Internet is really the place that matters.
And so Stewart will sign off on Thursday, preceded by a parade of friendly faces. Amy Schumer, as the current hottest thing in comedy, kicks off the final week, before long-time friends and frequent guests Louis CK and Denis Leary (a former roommate of Stewart’s, the interviews between the two are frequently incomprehensible gibberish that somehow is hilarious).
Stewart’s final guest slot is still a mystery, though considering he’s had Obama, Bill Clinton and Tom Cruise all within the last week, it’s hard to see how he’ll top that. Surely, we’ll see old friends like Colbert, Carrell, Oliver and Sam Bee…but those don’t qualify as “surprises” really.
Considering that the final episode will be filmed the same day as the first GOP debate, it’s unlikely that we’ll see Trump. It certainly would be a canny move on Hillary Clinton’s part to appear. Or maybe Stewart will stun us all and have George W. Bush join him on stage.
Either way, for better or worse, the world will be watching. And some of us will have a tear in our eyes.