I have had a few weeks to digest Jon Stewart’s farewell, and still, the whole thing seems like a gigantic mistake.
Jon’s departure hurts everyone in this country, even those that hate him. He brought a genuine and sincere Socratic injection to the American and world media discourse that is already being missed. Yet his departure seems filled with hasty decisions (that may turn out badly), potential feelings of ill will and a selfish abandonment on everything that he worked to build. That is why perhaps Jon should have left years ago as he is only human and we may have put too much faith in him and drove him to the point of near nihilism. Still, I suppose this is my goodbye to the Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
I watched the final show twice and found it a little cringe worthy the second time over. While it read like a nice greeting card with a delightful present handed to Jon playing with Bruce Springsteen live (which is like his dream), it spent so much time on cameos to help people past and present on their careers, and little time remembering the good times, the moments of change, the great jokes that evolved out Jon’s confrontational style (role 2:12!). So here are my own personal memories of over a decade condensed like a fine sweetened milk.
Jon Stewart is a longtime staple of Soapblox.com and my very first post, that was allowed to go public, way back in the Fall of 2004, was about Jon’s announcement of his intent to vote for John Kerry over Bush. This was around the time the show began to drift heavily away from the Craig Killborn legacy of neutral “Weekend Update” style news a la Dennis Miller and actually start to stand for something. In the subsequent years, I created an entire category for Jon Stewart’s witticisms, called “Funny Dose”, where I tried to comment on Jon’s comedy in a serious way and extract the power of his statements (unlike other organizations that simply regurgitated his statements for click bait) while adding the words “eviscerated” or “destroyed” or “decapitated” or whatever in the headline pointed at a guest he actually humiliated with their own logic. That was around the time that Jon went after a crappy cable panel show called “Crossfire” and even got the backing of the then CNN manager to back his embarrassing attack on Tucker Carlson. Carlson never fully recovered but kinda did (he own’s the Daily Caller), though the liberal host was especially hurt by Jon’s attack, which is a fitting point. The next Monday Jon announced that he spent his weekend “calling a guy a dick on national TV”. That was Jon with his young angst still in tack. That angry guy who turned to humor like Socrates, to humiliate the establishment and not playing politics with the outcome, even if it hurt his own cause.
In time he went right after Bush, and I remember thinking to myself: ‘someday, I will look back and say that Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert got me through the Bush years!’ This is 100% true because I think the insanity we were enduring with war and violence and the protests (that I was in and supported), we were going crazy with more war to solve the problems of war. Many of us on the Left like to keep our sense of humor in times of crisis, but there were days when I sat at my parent’s dinner table and my dad and I were so upset that we talked about the violence to the point my mother told us to stop and walked out. How can you enjoy your dinner when the country you love was acting like a fascist nation, invading for personal gain? The death toll was coming in every night and unlike many of the so called “Support Our Troops” people, I watched every face, every night!
This was the madness that Jon and Steven made sense of that kept me tuning in, and helped keep the faith towards restoring sanity to this country and ultimately the White House with the election of Barrack Obama. I think I haven’t missed more than a couple episodes in 10 years! Thanks to the Interwebs, if he said something that made me mad, I could and would always catch up.
After Obama was elected he tried to adhere to his standards of pointing out hypocrisy, and pointed out as much as he could get away with. He usually would go after his old easy target, Fox News, though the realities of running government are not the same as storming the castle. He interviewed Obama in 2010 and probably hurt the mid-term elections of 2010.
As time went one, he eventually made a noticeable attack on Obama in the wake of the Snowden Affair (though he was never able to quite reconcile the hypocrisy of Snowden taking cover in the worst offender of privacy invasion… Putin’s Russia, a fact we saw first hand when Jason Jones went to Russia (ON THE DAILY SHOW) and as time went on and the world of politics became tied to the very money that even sponsored him (Koch Industries) Jon began to get jaded and kind of bitter. That young punkishness that we all admired so much gave way to night’s where he would attack Fox
News and Republicans, followed by a night of attacking Democrats, then liberals, then republicans back and forth. Over time, I began to pull back, though still never missed a show.
So it made sense that he would leave John Oliver in charge when he went off to make Rosewood. The movie itself is quite good and overlooked, though it showed he was bored with being the under 40-50 crowd’s chief source for news and social commentary. John Oliver did an amazing job and it seemed that he would be the new successor. For whatever reason, it didn’t happen and John Oliver left for a weekly show on HBO and a lucrative connection for his comedy specials. Then Colbert was offered Letterman’s job and people began to talk about how the Daily Show crowd had become the new powerhouse in comedy. SNL cast members were struggling to get movie parts while the Daily Show Dynasty was the new force in comedy.
Then, at what would seem to be the top of his game. Jon announced his departure. It was one to coincide with Colbert’s takeover of Letterman’s job, and stay out of the way (Viacom owns CBS & Comedy Central). It kind of made sense that Jon would feel a little bitter, but apparently he was offered (according to nearly last guest Dennis Leary) a huge $50 million contract or something. Though the appearance on Comedy Central of rising star Amy Schumer (who was offered the job apparently) on the last week demonstrates who was pulling the strings.
Jon’s departure was poorly handled and launched with almost zero respect. It’s as if he was accepting whatever deal he could get, or perhaps they were mad that he turned down their alleged $50 million offer, who knows. All we know is Jon is out and some obscure foreign, South African comedian is going to helm the greatest American social commentary comedy show on TV and possibly history?
I have to tell you that I was pretty pissed when I found that out. Trevor Noah was known for one slightly clever sketch and is easily surpassed by half a dozen people that were better suited for the job. To make matters worse, he isn’t American, so he can’t really tell us about our politics (remember John Oliver’s early comedy tour?), isn’t African-American, so he can’t handle the black issues Americans will care about (and besides, veteran comedian, Larry Wilmore has that sown up these days in the following Nightly Show) and he is known for making insulting jokes about Jews (which I guess is more an African thing of ‘everyone is up for grabs’ but regardless garnered the Jewish Anti-Defamation League to write a petition to get him out).
He is perhaps, the worst possible choice on paper. Not to mention successors to giants rarely work (ask Pope Benedict) but you have to let the old candles burn out. They directly and publicly passed over Samantha Bee and Jason Jones (a husband and wife team that has been waiting in the wings on The Daily Show for well over 10 years) and could have been a good transitional phase of the show. Instead, it’s some guy who hasn’t earned his stripes, (which I can say full well knowing that I watched his comedy and found it unimpressive), and is likely to cause some kind of harm to the Daily Show brand if he isn’t just truly stellar right out of the gate.
Don’t get me wrong. I hope he surprises me. I just remember when John Oliver was just getting started and went on Conan O’ Brian (Late Night) and doing comedy about the American Political system and people didn’t laugh. It was too early and he needed to earn his stripes. Perhaps Noah will in time. For the sake of one of the most prestigious brands in American Comedy, I hope Noah will succeed.
I actually feel sorry for him. I would not want to take over this job.
The big question is why?
Is Jon Stewart angry at Colbert getting the nod or angry at Comedy Central and got his people to all walk away. Or did Jason Jones and Samantha Bee walk away because they were passed over. Is Jon upset at that because the decision wasn’t his. Why did he turn down the money? Had he planned to let his contract expire so he can launch something much bigger? Does he want to be a director of films? Is it really to be with his family?
I guess we will never know the answers to these questions, unless somebody talks and that isn’t going to happen any time soon.
The Final Show
Jon walked away from a multi-million dollar empire, as the new king-maker in late-night comedy and American comedy in general, with barely more than a whimper. A lame cameo show that didn’t even have the heart of Colbert’s exit with all kinds of odd and interesting arrivals from all walks of life. It read like the death of the Daily Show.
The people were all past performers and “correspondents”, from the obscure to Stephen Colbert. It’s like a greeting card, I said earlier, yeah, like a greeting card you get at the office, all signed by people you largely don’t care about with a few exceptions.
He also did this way too long Goodfellas bit to show all the hard workers of the show. It’s the kind of thing you play on the show before your last show and it dragged on with inside jokes and mildly humorous anecdotes. Don’t get me wrong. I admire all the people that make the show happen, though even the Scorsese cameo couldn’t save the bit from over-sentimentality for his people while kind of ignoring the real people that kept the show on the air for so long… the audience (you can challenge this till kingdom come, you will ultimately lose this argument). You don’t close out your last rock show on your tour by putting in a middle act of Roadies performing someone else’s song. That’s a penultimate moment.
The last part was a personal note from Jon. It essentially warned of trusting bullshit. He makes a fine speech about warning of the cryptic uses of the media and politicians. But Jon! Without people like you to dig through the bullshit, how can so many people who don’t have the time or care to dig through bullshit get to know? I guess that’s Trevor Noah’s job now.
Finally came Jon’s Moment of Zen: A self indulgent, though well-deserved, concert with “The Bruce” himself, Mr. Springsteen, rocking it up for several songs till the show was over.
All in all, it was cute, though an ultimately underwhelming end to a decade and a half of defining the events of our day, attacking the establishment and becoming so important, that the Republicans scheduled their debate on the day of his departure, and since his show is filmed at like 5pm EST, he had no way of making a final comment on it. A little kiss goodbye from his friends at FOX News. A sign of what’s to come, as the over confident network now has nobody that relevant to attack them any longer, like a bunch of spoiled teenagers trying to get into grandma’s liquor cabinet.
I can’t see the future, but I can see the odds. There are very good odds that Jon Stewart will transition his power of influence to a new venture. This may be something that has been whispered in his ear for a very long time by many people and this may be the time to get it done. Let the contract expire, so no “non-compete” clauses, and he can get to work right away. This would make a huge enemy out of Viacom and put him at odds with his old Daily Show alumnus Stephen Colbert and Larry Willmore, though put him in perfect leagues with HBO, who has probably already sent a ton of people to meet him. Jon may make a blog or end up on another comedy show, but I doubt you will see him in the same late night position anytime soon (after all, it would be bad press for him to go against Colbert), besides the market is over saturated at this point.
Jon will do fine and I hope his time off isn’t too long, because the nature of this business is to forget what isn’t exciting. I don’t buy that family excuse one bit. Jon went out of his way to promote WWE Wrestling and even appear on WWE shows (even recently), going as far as to get into a dispute, because it’s a thing he and his son enjoy.
Back on the Jon Stewart show on MTV, Jon was a smoking, leather jacket wearing, cocky prick who just happened to be incredibly smart and had a vision that didn’t work for teens and tweens (surprise). He tried acting, of course continued his stand-up and somehow landed the Daily Show, with people, including Colbert, resenting the new leadership. Today he is a family man who quit smoking and is politically minded with a head full of gray hair. He’s still an intelligent, cocky prick but a little less cocky, a little less pricky and a whole lot more intelligent. Expect big things, but he needs some time to find his new self.
As for the Daily Show, it could find a new voice with Trevor Noah and work. There must be some reason they chose him. Like the guy that replaced Craig Ferguson, James Corden, he has been pleasantly surprising. I like him a boatload more than Seth Meyers, and they ran with him in prelude to Colbert, and this is the same essential leadership. So we all may be surprised.
However, it could be the signal to tone down the rhetoric, ultimately dooming Larry Willmore at a time when #blacklivesmatter. This could be a set up to kill the franchise that has been bothering the wealthy elites the most and causing them sleepless nights. Don’t believe the American Dream, it’s bullshit. Once you truly make it, they own you. As long as you make them money, they tolerate you, as soon as you don’t, they replace you.
I personally hope Jon ends up on HBO, doing something weekly (so he has family time), and to add to the new revolution in political comedy underway that is happening with Bill Maher and John Oliver. Imagine that every night there would be a great political show by a different brilliant comedian, that ran for an hour. I’d pay for HBO GO if they did that, becuase I could care less about Girls or whatever show they have crammed excessive sex and violence into to justify the high cost. I’m not sure if it could work, but HBO runs Bill Maher all through the weekend in an age of DVRs so there is demand.
See You Tomorrow
Jon Stewart, along with his writers and staff, got me through the Bush years. He helped get Stephen Colbert his job and that helped me even more, and possibly into the future. He also got John Oliver his job as well. I will miss each night, when I had cable, of coming home to listen to his bits. I especially loved when he went off the script and told it like it was. When I ditched cable, I listened to the episodes in my headphones at work each morning and came home to watch them again. While some days were wild and some days were dull, Jon was one of my constants… one of the things I could count on that was real and true (even if I didn’t agree). I really, really really dislike seeing him go, though I have faith he has bigger plans. I also hope that this Noah kid can pull it off, and more importantly, I wish him well.
So let’s say good-bye, but not farewell, as I have a sneaking suspicion I will see you again sometime!
To send you off, here is a gallery of my best John Stewart photos: