I happened to look up the other day how long my three favorite series from the last decade were: Breaking Bad is 46 and a half hours, Mad Men is 72 hours, and I spent 76 hours watching Friday Night Lights, and none of this includes rewatches, interviews with the cast, commentary tracks, and web ephemera associated with those series. I felt keenly close to the characters of those shows, even the intentionally unlikable ones, and when those series ended, there was a sense of sadness because, even though each had satisfying ends, I wouldn’t get to spend anymore time with them.
Jon Stewart is not a character. He’s a real person, and I didn’t spend 72 hours over the course of five years with him. We spent something in the range of 1200 hours with him over the course of 16 years. Think about that, and ask yourself how many friends you’ve spent 1200 hours with? How many family members in your adult life have you seen for 1200 hours?
If you were an avid Daily Show viewer, you probably spent more time with Jon Stewart since 1999 than anyone else outside of your workplace or immediate family. He was a fixture on our televisions, on our laptops, and on our smart phones. He was a constant presence. Putting everything else aside about his politics, his likability, and his worldview, he had to feel a little like family to many of us, even if we’d never had a conversation with him.
Some of us have grown up with Jon Stewart. For some of us, Jon Stewart has been in a presence in our entire adult lives from the 2000 election to 9/11 to a miserable recession to the triumph of Obama’s victory and through class warfare and the legalization of gay marriage and Obamacare and mass shootings and cases of police brutality. We’ve been through good times and a lot of bad times that he made better. Through it all, Jon Stewart was the cool punk rock uncle who evolved into the authoritative father figure who yelled at us because he cared, and we cared back.
A couple of months ago, when the Foo Fighters played Letterman out during his his finale, I went to bed around 12:45 that night feeling the same way I did when Springsteen played Jon Stewart out last night: Happy, sad, lost and a little confused, like I’d just said goodbye to my Dad without realizing that I’d never see him again.
But the day after Letterman’s finale, as I was posting the final montage to the site, I watched it again, and a couple more times after that, and sitting at my desk, alone in my house, I began to cry. Because that’s when it sank in that we’d lost him. No, he’s not dead, and he may still reappear from time to time in a different capacity. But I’d never see him behind the Late Show desk again. Because unlike Breaking Bad or Mad Men or Friday Night Lights, Letterman doesn’t live on in reruns. Nor will Jon Stewart. One day we may look at an old YouTube clip, the way we look at family albums containing pictures of departed loves ones, but there will never be another Late Show with David Letterman episode, and there will never be another The Daily Show with Jon Stewart installment. The hosts may live, but what they brought to us for 16 or 32 years — joy, comfort, sadness, rage, community — is dead.
It’s different with guys like Jon Stewart, because it is. He’s not a character we saw in a show once a week for a few years. He’s not a guy we saw in a few movies over the course of our lives. He’s a guy with whom we spent real, honest time and with whom we shared a lot of laughs, a lot of anger, and a lot of frustration.
Now he’s gone, and though he is not dead, I think it’s appropriate to grieve as though we lost a loved one, to celebrate his show and feel a real sense of sadness for the loss. Jon Stewart may not have known us, but we knew him like one of our own family members, one of the few ones we loved and respected and cherished and adored enough to spend the better part of 1200 hours with, and there won’t be a 1201st hour on The Daily Show.
RIP The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. We’ll meet you in a land of hope and dreams.