So this is it. Or that was it, I should say. Jon Stewart did his final Daily Show, and honestly it feels a little weird. The show itself was of course good, but as is the case with most final episodes, not as good as his best. It was mostly what we needed.
The long, first segment devoted to past and present correspondents filled our requite nostalgia fix, but other than a couple of brilliant moments (Jon and Wyatt Cenac, John McCain and the puppet) didn’t really do anything new. The middle segment introduced The Daily Show staff which means a lot of mother’s are proudly announcing their children were finally on TV.
But what we, the audience, really needed was Stewart’s “Three Different Kinds Of Bullshit” segment. He knew we’d need him after he was gone, and he left us with a vulgar, hysterical mission statement: Examine the bullshit.
I’m not trying to sentimentalize Stewart’s leaving the show. It’s easy to play up the nostalgia whenever a long time fixture of our media landscape leaves. (I’m sure David Letterman would have appreciated some of our undying love when he was slipping in the ratings.) It’s that in a very weird but very concrete way, I associate Jon Stewart and The Daily Show with my adulthood.
The 2000 election was the first one I voted in. I was a college freshman, I believed fully that Nader could make a serious difference, and I wussed out and voted for Gore at the last minute. I didn’t understand the electoral college, I didn’t realize that because I was voting in Illinois my vote might as well as not have counted, and I had absolutely no idea that would did happen in that election could.
But I distinctly and to this day remember this segment:
“Calling this whole thing “Indecision 2000” was at first a bit of a light hearted jab. Perhaps an attempt to humor. We had no idea that people were going to run with that. We thought we were kidding quite frankly.”
That line is etched in my memory as “The Moment I Got Grown- Up Humor.” I understood what was going on with the election, I understood why what he was saying was funny, and I understood how in those brief few seconds we was mocking all of the bullshit inherent in our election system and the media self- aggrandized coverage of it.
Commenter Salieri2 tipped me yesterday to this NY Mag profile, and this specific quote:
The road trips to Philly and to the 2000 Democratic convention in Los Angeles reshaped The Daily Show, but not in the way Stewart had anticipated. “We were at that point merry pranksters—guys on a bus going, ‘That guy looks like Richard Gephardt!’ ” he says. “The more we got to meet people [in the media], it was—‘Oh! You’re fucking retarded! You don’t care!’ The pettiness of it, the strange lack of passion for any kind of moral or editorial authority, always struck me as weird. We felt like, we’re serious people doing an unserious thing, and they’re unserious people doing a very serious thing.”
He was serious. The faces and voices and vulgarity didn’t lessen his credibility, they enhanced it. Because they let him shout at the audience, “You will watch my buffoonery, and you will pay attention to this very serious thing because of it. I am a joke and what I’m doing is a joke. But this thing I’m mocking is not a joke.”
Jon Stewart probably didn’t set out to transform the face of journalism (and I will argue to my last breath that he is a journalist), but he managed to. He gave us our news. He made it funny when it was ridiculous and made it bearable when it was heart breaking. He used comedy as both the knife and salve. He treated us the way we needed to be even if we didn’t deserve it. And he taught me how to think like a grown up.