The Daily Show has been an integral part of my life ever since I was first told about it in a debate class in 2006. Since then, I have not missed a single episode and every one of them has left me cracking up laughing, having a great time as Jon Stewart explored the news, brought to light issues that needed attention, or just ranted at the right. So, when in February Jon announced he was leaving this show my reaction was probably about the same as every student’s reaction when they heard Willow was closing. Now that his last show is over, I feel that it may be time to reflect on exactly what made Jon one of the best and most trusted voices in American media.
One of the aspects I most admired about Jon was his ability to garner respect from all sides of the political spectrum. While there was no doubt that he is solidly on the left of American politics, the fact that right-wing politicians and ideologues were willing to come onto his show spoke leagues about the principled reporting that he did. It was especially interesting that none of these people ever felt regret for appearing on The Daily Show or in the ‘field pieces’ that the correspondents did, no matter how ridiculous it made them look. In an increasingly partisan political world, where you define yourself by your friends and enemies, it was great to see that Jon could keep that level of respect and neither appear like a sell-out to his left-wing audience nor appear like a blinkered person to the right-wing people he interviewed.
Jon Stewart also showed what a good reporter he was through his interviews. No matter who he interviewed he was always courteous and thoroughly interested in what the people on the other side of the desk had to say. Apparently he is famous for always reading the books of the people he interviewed (how he manages to do that escapes me) and can always make interesting points about them. However, that is not to say that all his interviewees had an easy time. His best moments were when he laid into someone he disagreed with for being inconsistent with their ideology (his interview with Mike Huckabee over gay rights particularly springs to mind). Regardless of his own views he always gave the other side a chance to defend themselves, but would not let them get away with substandard arguments. This is something that the mainstream media often fails to do and it was great seeing people of all stripes held to account. His interviews with former Presidents and fellow comedians were also nice as he was able to give these people a pulpit at times when they needed it (seeing Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton was especially great as they often have slid out of the public eye).
Jon’s news reports were often spot on as well. The media tends to brush certain issues under the carpet, especially those of privilege, and try to ignore some obvious facts, whereas The Daily Show brought these issues to the forefront. Often people who are born into a privileged world don’t realise how lucky they are and how different the world can be for those who do not have privilege. For a nation whose schools often teach (or imply) that racism ended when MLK did the March on Washington, having a news anchor devote time to racism by the police or the double standards African Americans are held to is hugely important. Even on the left there are those who do not understand these vital lessons, and it seems that often Jon was showing them that the fight for equality was not yet over. Furthermore, Jon has made a very real difference to many people’s lives. For example, his crusade to provide healthcare for 9/11 first responders is credited by many as having been crucial to passing the bill to make that happen. Jon understood that he had a pulpit and an audience that he could influence on major issues and change the way they thought of things (even if they initially tuned in to laugh) and he used that platform to the best of his ability.
Finally, the best part of Jon’s reign was the comedians whose career he launched. People like Stephen Colbert, John Oliver, and Larry Wilmore would certainly not have the shows or the audiences that they have now had it not been for Jon employing them and showing their talents off. Colbert himself pointed this out in the finale and it was clear everyone agreed with him. Jon used The Daily Show to help others grow and he even continued to promote them long after they had left his show. He never made it about himself and seeing all the correspondents return for the last episode certainly brought a tear to everyone’s eye. While Jon made The Daily Show what it was, he also lives on in Last Week Tonight, and The Nightly Show, and when Colbert takes over Letterman, Jon will live on there as well and frankly there could be no better legacy. He has spent 16 years making America laugh (9 of those years making me laugh) and by the end, Jon had turned a little-known comedy show into a news giant capable of influencing people all around the world. He will be missed by all and Trevor Noah truly has some of the biggest shoes imaginable to fill. I, and many others will continue watching The Daily Show under him, but to me, and to many others, Jon will still be its one true anchor and he will always be what made the show worth watching! #JonVoyage