Comedian Jon Stewart shocked the world on Tuesday Feb. 10 when he announced that he would be ending his 17-year tenure as host of “The Daily Show.” A statement from Comedy Central confirmed that he would only continue hosting until “later this year.” Neither Stewart nor Comedy Central has thus far given any indication as to the 52-year-old comic’s future plans. When Jon Stewart took up the helm of “The Daily Show” in 1999, there was no real precedent for what he would do with it. Of course, comics have incorporated social and political issues into their comedy for decades, but none have done it in such a consistent and uncompromising manner.
Even greater than Stewart’s impact on politics, however, was his influence on the media. By using his platform to call out and broadcast media hypocrisy to millions of viewers on a nightly basis, he kept pundits honest who, for so long, had little to no accountability. Of course, while there is still a great deal of bloviating idiocy on cable news networks, we would not recognize the degree to which it occurs without Stewart.
Stewart forced cable news to hold itself to a higher standard. That he did so using a comedy show that, in his own words, followed “puppets making crank phone calls” is nothing short of sublime. “The Daily Show” embodied the highest purpose of comedy: to challenge norms and ultimately affect change.
Still, it is important not to misconstrue Stewart’s legacy. Above all else, he deserves to be recognized as one of the greatest late-night talk show hosts of all time. Over the course of almost two decades, “The Daily Show” was consistently can’t-miss television. His segments were so frequently the topic of water cooler conversation the following day––he was our generation’s Johnny Carson.
It is hard to say how the media landscape will change without Stewart hosting “The Daily Show.” The dearth of information regarding the show’s future also makes it nearly impossible to speculate beyond who will replace Stewart. A likely scenario is that Comedy Central goes with one of the show’s current correspondents given John Oliver’s success hosting the show during Stewart’s three-month absence in 2013.
Whatever the show’s future entails, we can be thankful for all that Stewart has done and hope that his influence drives others to emulate him. His work truly elevated the standard of broadcast journalism and it would be truly horrible for that standard to lower in his absence.