[No, this is not a get-out-of-recap post, but it is a “Vrai is emotionally exhausted from watching the last Daily Show episode, and they thought you might want some content while they recover enough to power through the recap for tomorrow” post. Thank, and it only seems fitting to have a companion to the essay I wrote when The Colbert Report ended]
I just watched Jon Stewart’s last episode of The Daily Show, readers. And I am…I am not okay.
I mean yeah, it’s an ending of an era and TDS was one of the most influential works of American satire in the 21st century to date, and I’m a critic who I like to think strings together amusing bits of words sometimes, so there’s that.
But that’s not it. I owe so much of who I am to that man, and that show. The very words in my fingertips owe a debt to him and Stephen Colbert (about whom I had a good long cry some eight months ago).
For Christmas when I was 14 years old, my oldest brother (who was about the same age then that I am now) bought me a copy of America: The Book. I hadn’t asked for it, and in paging through I nigh on instinctively fell onto the page with the exposed senator junk while my overprotective parents were in the room. But I kept it, because it was the first thing I felt like we could share together. I was born long after my two surviving brothers and my parents lost my two other brothers, and my oldest bro moved out to college when I was barely in kindergarten. I often felt, quietly, like I was part of a different family. But here, at least, was something I could share with him as someone worth spending time with. I didn’t get half the jokes, but I laughed like I did because I felt like I belonged somewhere, and then gradually I woke up realizing I knew what was funny.
And I learned so much. My wordplay got quicker. I was the only one in my junior high who seemed to know what was going on in the elections. I cared about the world beyond myself, even as my anxiety was preparing to blossom into a constant presence. My timing, my sense of humor, my ability to hear a story and start breaking it down. I can trace so much of it back to him.
When I finally started watching the interviews I learned how to analyze an argument. How to begin to be passionate but speak with a level head, and to eviscerate (yes, I had to use it) an opponent’s argument with well chosen facts while still remembering to treat them, at the end of it all, like a human being. When I finally gave up on teenage cynicism, I tried my hardest to hope for the best without hesitating to point out the errors in what lay before me – even if it was just a movie, and not something so influential as the nation’s politics.
Those are heady and maybe pretentious ideals, I know. I certainly can’t claim to live up to them every day of my life. But my every moment is consumed trying to be better, be clearer and more articulate, to try and understand points with the nuance they deserve and to educate and be educated whenever the conversation allows for it. I try so hard, trying to be like that ideal I was chasing.
And yes, I know that Jon Stewart is not a perfect man. Your faves are always problematic, as it goes, and it wouldn’t be in the spirit of the man to deny he has failings, to try and silence a measured discussion of that topic. But at the end of it, that’s not what I’ll remember.
I’ll think about the first time I went on a long-distance trip without teachers or parents or minders, at the embarrassingly old age of 20, to stand at The Rally to Restore Sanity (and/or Fear). And I’ll remember that painfully earnest speech at the end, from the spot pressed against the railing that I was fully prepared to talk someone into submission to keep, while I listened to a plea for honest conversation, for animosity without being enemies, for an end to the hysteria of national discourse.
it didn’t end like that, of course. Things are maybe worse now than ever, speaking broadly. But I will swear, from that moment until my death bed, that he made eye contact with me from the stage. I felt connected, in a moment too cheesy for the most 80s of movies, to the belief that there was good and compassion in the human heart, that it was a burden for me to take to try and make discourse better.
So maybe the world didn’t change. But I did. And I won’t stop trying. Thank you, Jon Stewart. I’ll see you around.