It is only a slight exaggeration to say that I grew up with Jon Stewart and his Daily Show.
I remember almost 15 years ago, eating dinner with my family, and watching Jon Stewart have his fun with Al Gore and George W. Bush. It was a common occurrence in my house to have my brothers and I sit around the dinner table, only to have one of us go up to the TV to grab a remote so we could go to our recording of the previous nights Daily Show. I remember being a really stupid freshman in high school, signing up for Facebook for the first time, and when it came time to fill in my political stances, I put in “Jon Stewart”. In retrospect not the most astute or reasonable thing to put in that little box, but at the very least it says something about how much Jon Stewart affected my life. Jon has had a profound affect on my humor, my politics, and, dare I even say it, my morals.
I wanted to write this so I could somehow communicate just how important Jon Stewart has been to forming me as a person. And on a larger scale, to forming the opinions of my generation who grew up watching him impersonate Bush and compare Cheney to a Sith Lord. Years ago, a friend was hanging out with me and told me that he had spent the previous night binge watching past weeks Daily Shows. He said it suddenly occurred to him why a lot of the humor seemed familiar, and that was because it sounded like me. In truth, I think of this moment very fondly, because if I could be as funny and clever as Jon Stewart, if I had spent even a part of the last decade absorbing a fraction of his talent and skill, then I would have it made. Imitating Jon Stewart’s humor is something that I used to do, before it morphed into my humor. This is how I think of Jon Stewart. He is a pinnacle, a god among mere mortals, to be aspired to.
I remember during the 2000 election, I wondered who my parents would vote for. They wouldn’t tell me, for which I am retroactively grateful. But they did let me watch the Daily Show, despite the fact that I was turning 8 as the election was going on, for which I am even more grateful. I remember Jon Stewart tearing into both Bush and Gore, and having his way with the mess that was that election. I remember as Jon Stewart started to have his fun with Bush, only to be as grief stricken as anyone in America after 9/11. I remember his criticism of the “War on Terror”. I remember his criticism of “The Decider”, as George W. Bush declared himself. I remember the 2008 election. I remember the near exultation of Obama’s march to the White House, and I remember the scathing criticism for his faults almost as much as for his opponents, both on the campaign trail and later in Congress. I remember the mocking of Mitt Romney, and the mocking of the 47% comments. And I remember the disappointment at issues like Guantanamo Bay, which refused to be closed (and its ever present inmate, Gitmo). Jon Stewart was funny, sure. Hilarious even. But he wielded his comedy like a weapon, taking a jab at the issues of the day, getting through the stupidity of the news to get those nuggets of truth and dazzle us with them.
I remember a lot of what Jon Stewart has said over the years, and some of those things have mixed with things that I think I have said. Jon was not partisan, though he did lean left and progressive. But he didn’t like bullshit, and he didn’t compromise his morals. And that is likely the reason he is so respected in the media world, by presidents and pundits alike. Because as much as some people might disparage him as “too political”, or “hiding behind comedy”, or even “a dog of the left”, Jon stuck to what he thought was right, in a world that to many seemed to be going all wrong. Jon Stewart was a good man, and that meant a lot. If there’s one lesson Jon Stewart left me and many others with, it was to do right, no matter what.
And if he didn’t leave us with that, what a legacy the man has left otherwise! The media landscape is now littered with his proteges and former employees. We have Colbert, who took over the Late Show just in time and who was practically Jon’s partner in comedy. There’s John Oliver, who’s Last Week Tonight is quickly becoming its own bastion of humor and activism. Larry Wilmore’s Nightly show injected an edge and an African-American perspective that was very much needed on late night TV. Steve Carrel is a huge movie star now, after being a brillaint comedian all over TV and movies. I became aware of Lewis Black because of the Daily show, and even if that was all the Daily Show would have done for me I would have been grateful. Rob Corddry, Ed Helms, Rob Riggle, Olivia Munn, Josh Gad, Wyatt Cenac, John Hodgman, Kristen Schaal, Jason Jones and Samantha Bee are all incredible talents that were either introduced to the world by or forged in the fire of the Daily Show. And with current correspondents like Al Madrigal, Aasif Mandvi, Jessica Williams, Hasan Minhaj and Jordan Klepper, we are sure to see Jon’s legacy throughout the years to come. This paragraph basically speaks for itself with all of the amazing names I have been able to drop that can be traced back to Jon Stewart.
I’ve been trying to finish this post since Jon’s run ended almost two months ago. And now that Trevor Noah has made his debut, I think the safety of how good the show can continue to be, and how it can evolve, is what will allow me to move on. Sure, our collective “political dad” may be gone, but he still had a profound impact on our entire cultural conscience. And not only has he left us in good hands, assuring that both of Comedy Central’s late night TV hosts would be black, making for a significantly more diverse field, but he’s continuing the good fight. And not just in wrestling, although obviously the fun he’s had there is not to be diminished. But it was just the other week that Jon was down in Washington DC to help a rally for the 9/11 first responders who are still in need of aid. Jon’s still fighting the good fight. And we should remember to do the same.
If you have an issue you care about deeply, like Jon Stewart cares about the 9/11 first responders, you can look up your congressmen and women here, at http://www.contactingthecongress.org/ with their contact information. From there you can tell them what matters to you, and how you feel they should vote. I used to work for Congressman Bill Foster in Illinois, and trust me when I say that those phone calls and those emails do matter. Make sure to vote next year, and make sure to register to vote sooner rather than later! Together, we can take a stab at bullshit, and make a difference.
Jon Stewart may be gone from late night TV, but he will never be gone from our hearts. Also he’s still alive, so there’s that.
(Art Credit: Jon Stewart by Robert Carter on deviantart)