By Nani Lawrence
Jon Stewart decided to retire from The Daily Show. His two-hour finale aired on August 6.
Stewart—originally Leibowitz—was born in New York City. He and his brother Lawrence grew up in Lawrenceville, New Jersey. Stewart graduated from The College of William and Mary in Virginia in 1984, with a degree in psychology. In 1986, he moved back to the City, and a year later, made his stand-up debut at The Bitter End.
Stewart’s first foray into television came in 1989, when he was a comedy writer for Caroline’s Comedy Hour. In 1991, he co-hosted Short Attention-Span with Patty Rosborough on Comedy Central.
He developed a talk show for MTV, The Jon Stewart Show, which began airing in 1993. According to a 1994 piece in TV Guide, his talk show ranked second-most-watched for the network, behind Beavis and Butthead.
The Daily Show premiered in July 1996, with Craig Kilborn as host. Jon Stewart took over in January 1999, changing its format to focus more on politics and the media. The show under Stewart earned 20 Primetime Emmy awards.
During his 16-year tenure, Stewart has definitely commented on news and events with a liberal perspective, but the younger generations relied on him for their news. In fact, Rolling Stone called Stewart “America’s last honest newsman.”
In his early years, the comedian satirized politics. Now, as Rob Sheffield writes, America’s political climate is meaner and more divided. He goes on to say:
Political satire, as Stewart defined it on The Daily Show, requires him to appear equally tough on the left and the right. But that means he has to pretend there’s such a thing as a moderate center. If his show got more predictable in the past few years — making the same jokes every night about the same Fox News/Tea Party bullshit — that’s because America did…It’ll be an uglier world without Stewart — but then, that’s the main reason he’s bailing: It’s an uglier world already.
A bill to provide $7.4 billion to first responders who fell ill from their work on September 11 was blocked by Senate Republicans, because they disagreed with higher taxes on wealthier Americans.
On an episode in 2010, Stewart interviewed four first responders—a firefighter, a police officer, a public transportation official, and an engineer. They had all suffered illness due to their work at Ground Zero.
According to Slate magazine, the only two media sources to cover the topic were The Daily Show and Al Jazeera. Because of this coverage, The New York Times puts him on the same level as Walter Cronkite and Edward R. Murrow.
Variety magazine has suggested that it may be impossible to find a replacement for Stewart. His wit, intelligence, and comedic timing made this a perfect job for him.
His show’s eye for talent has catapulted some of its staffers’ careers, as well. Perhaps most famously, correspondent Stephen Colbert earned a show of his own, The Colbert Report, which premiered on Comedy Central in October of 2005.
With critical acclaim almost from the very first episode, Colbert lasted until December 18, 2014. The last episode ended with a sing-along, featuring cameos from famous guests and fans. Colbert is set to succeed David Letterman on The Late Show, starting in September.
Stewart’s sabbatical in 2013 led to a similar-in-format weekly HBO program. Jon Stewart took a twelve-week sabbatical to direct the movie Rosebud, a film about a journalist imprisoned during the Iraq war. Correspondent Jon Oliver took his place at the anchor desk, and must have impressed the right people, because Last Week Tonight with Jon Oliver premiered on April 27, 2014.
Other notable correspondents who went on to greater success include Rob Riggle and Steve Carell.
Stewart has stated that he plans to turn his New Jersey farm into an animal rescue, but at this point, no one knows what he’ll do career-wise after his retirement from the show. He performed a set at the Comedy Cellar in Manhattan on July 29, following Louis C.K.
According to sources, Stewart said he “could do this again.” Stand-up may or may not be the comedian’s path after The Daily Show, but it’s safe to say America will miss Stewart greatly.