The Sad Ascendancy of Jon Stewart

I like Jon Stewart quite a bit. As we know, he’s leaving the show after 16 years. I came across this piece on by Katharine Trendacosta and had to share it here. She bingewatched Stewart’s entire run on the show and came to a conclusion that I had never realized: What makes The Daily Show so fantastic is that so much in our country is so wrong. Check out what she writes here:

These days, Indecision 2000 is considered a turning point for The Daily Show. It’s when it finally grew into its own. But the election finally dragged to its end, and The Daily Show lost momentum as quickly as the movement for reform did. And then the waiting really started.

As the stream played the events of December 13, 2000 through September 10, 2001, I sat through an endless parade of vapid news items. December, 2000: Stewart interviews the Spice Girls and Victoria Beckham says that Stewart isn’t that funny — and I agree with her. May 2001: Stewart’s Headlines segment includes the joke, “Steven Tyler’s national anthem angers crowd at Indianapolis 500. Spectators quickly placated by vroom-vrooms going ‘whee!’” And on August 23, 2001 — in the penultimate pre-9/11 episode — Mo Rocca does a five minute segment on entertainment for cats.

It was disposable television back then. It’s unbearable now, knowing there’s no way for them to see what’s about to happen. And I, miserably, want them to. As time passed for the show on my computer screen, I couldn’t look away. I started to worry that I’d stop watching and miss it, all the while hating myself for wanting the show to just get to 9/11.

This is an important observation. While Indecision 2000 is a celebrated time in the history of The Daily Show, we rarely hear about iconic moments from the hinterland between it and the post-9/11 episode. 9/11 changed the show, but as Trendacosta notes, the show has risen to these great heights because we have still not dealt with our issues as a nation.

I started watching the stream upset that Jon Stewart was leaving the Daily Show. I ended it feeling like he was better off going. In a grim inversion of Marx’s meditation on Hegel, the first time had been farce, the second time tragedy. The old episodes weren’t funny anymore. They were hard to watch, and could only have been harder to make.

I watched Stewart talk about 9/11 and how we’d persevere. And then I watched him deal with fourteen years of America not rising to that challenge. He made an amazing show, but he stared into the darkness of our world for a very long time. I don’t even blame him for going after easy targets like Donald Trump. They must feel like a relief now, rather than the kind of rote jokes from the first few seasons.

As the United States deals with, or rather doesn’t deal with, tragedy after tragedy, Jon Stewart makes comedic gold. Making laughter out of the repeated failures of the nation was bound to take a toll on him. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t happy he endured it for so long.


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