Jon Stewart said all the right things Tuesday, but if he’s normal at all, he should really, really miss “The Daily Show.”
For years, Stewart was the rumored candidate for every latenight job that opened up, or even might open up. Then he turned “The Daily Show” into one of TV’s most enviable showcases – a platform that injected him into the cultural and political zeitgeist, while paying him a fortune and allowing him to have a hand in producing other programs for Comedy Central.
Given all that, seeing him walk away from the gig, as the network announced prior to the program, came as something of a shock to the system – a “Why would he?” moment.
Sounding gracious and humble, Stewart devoted the last few minutes of his program to telling the studio audience what TV viewers already knew. “Seventeen years is the longest I have ever in my life held a job by 16 years and five months,” he joked, adding, “In my heart I know it is time for someone else to have that opportunity.”
Calling his “Daily Show” stint “an absolute privilege, the honor of my professional life,” Stewart noted, “This show doesn’t deserve an even slightly restless host, and neither do you.”
As for his official exit, Stewart said the details are still being worked out, but it could be slightly before or after the conclusion of his current contract in September. Either way, he won’t be around for the network’s “Indecision 2016” election coverage.
Comedians can be a strange breed, even one as thoughtful as Stewart. The fact something works isn’t always enough reason to keep doing it, as Jerry Seinfeld made clear by conspicuously retiring his old standup material, or Johnny Carson did by going from being one of the most visible people in America to absolute retirement.
The speculation that Stewart was getting itchy, moreover, had begun when he decided to take a hiatus to go direct a movie, “Rosewater,” whose success (or actually, lack thereof) can’t be the reason he chose to walk. How you gonna keep ‘em down on the farm, as it were, if they really want to direct?
Granted, there are few jobs in the broader universe where people stay in one chair until retirement or the Grim Reaper intervenes. But that template is fairly well established in latenight, where Carson gave way to David Letterman and Jay Leno, with all three of them measuring their tenures in decades, not years.
Stewart, at 52, is of a slightly different generation than the latenight titans who preceded him, and that he has joined that conversation from the confines of basic cable is a testament to his talent and drive. In addition, under him “The Daily Show” has arguably become one of the greatest launching pads for comedy talent around, at the very least rivaling “Saturday Night Live” by helping make Stephen Colbert, Steve Carell, John Oliver and Ed Helms stars.
“I don’t have any specific plans,” Stewart said, other than “dinner, on a school night, with my family.”
The host should be taken at his word about looking forward to a new challenge, although one suspects the polarized, vitriolic nature of the times might have had something to do with making him somewhat weary, beyond just the regular daily grind.
Stewart closed by saying he would miss the people with whom he works, not being on television every day. Still, in terms of the best, most influential job he’ll ever have, it wouldn’t be a surprise at some point to see him look back wistfully and miss “The Daily Show” every bit as much as most of his fans are going to miss their nightly dose of him.