A Word on Jon Stewart, and A Personal Era Ending

[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]

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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.

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7 comments on “A Word on Jon Stewart, and A Personal Era Ending

  1. As your alerts may have told you, I “liked” this post last night at about 2am, mostly because I’d been lying in bed for two hours still trying to process my feelings about that final TDS and eventually just gave up and started surfing the net. I’ve been watching TDS pretty regularly (and sometimes religiously) since Jon started hosting – certainly since the 2000 elections – and it’s impossible for me to quantify just how much of an impact he had on me, from my sense of humor to my interest in politics to my general worldview. Even my friend group, as our “water cooler talk” in high school frequently involved quoting and reenacting our favorite bits from the past night’s episode.

    It really isn’t hyperbole to say I’d be a totally different person today (and probably a worse one) if I’d never come across and fallen in love with Jon and his show. He was a consistent, comforting presence through difficult times both personal and sociopolitical, someone I knew I could turn on to put things in perspective and help me laugh when I needed it the most, and it’s hard to imagine not having that in my life anymore.

    Anyway, I’m really glad you wrote this, ’cause after I read it was I was able to scribble a few of my own thoughts down and finally have myself a good old cry. Plus it’s always fun to hear other people’s similar but unique experiences with a particular beloved media. I didn’t have the family connection (I love that you were able to bond with your sibs over political satire, btw), but I can for sure relate to TDS shaping my own feel for writing jokes and banter, and I definitely remember that sense of pride in being so knowledgeable about politics (I could name *all* the Democratic primary candidates in 2004 and my parents were just baffled by that).

    And heyyyy, I was at the Rally to Restore Sanity, too! I orchestrated (and basically funded) a trip wherein myself and four friends piled into a cramped SUV and drove something like 16 hours for it. Of course it was so (unexpectedly?) packed that by the time we got down there we had to stand so far away I couldn’t really see or hear anything, but I like to imagine we bumped shoulders during the walk out or something. ^^;

    By the by, have you been watching John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight” at all? If not, I can’t recommend it enough. It’s brilliant, and I’m so glad it’s on the air right now, filling at least a small portion of the TDS/Colbert Report hole in my heart.

    • Vrai Kaiser says:

      I KEEP MEETING WONDERFUL PEOPLE AFTER THE FACT WHO WERE AT THAT RALLY, IT IS INCREDIBLE (my GF, as it turns out, was there too – one of the people who got caught in traffic).
      For all that media hand wringing about “ohhhhh, young people only get news from the Daily Show” over the last decade, I hope these are the stories that wind up getting remembered. There’s a whole generation now of writers, comedians, and artists with Jon Stewart in their DNA. Stephen’s speech was so right on.
      I LOVE Last Week Tonight (only downside: it’s sort of cut down on his satire podcast, The Bugle). That show, and The NIghtly Show too (dunno if you’ve been watching that, it’s really become something special) are worthy successors to Jon and Stephen both. I’m gonna give Trevor Noah a shot but…it’s gonna feel weird.
      FAKE NEWS JUNKIE FIVE (and hug. And ugly tears)

      • I really WANT to like The Nightly Show but I haven’t managed it yet. The writing is fine and the panels can be really interesting, but there’s just something about Larry Wilmore’s delivery or persona or something that doesn’t quite work for me. I haven’t watched it in a while, though. Maybe I’ll give it another go, see if he grows on me.

        I was ambivalent about Trevor Noah until some friends who’d seen his stand-up spoke highly of him, so now I’m cautiously optimistic. He’ll definitely bring a different flavor to the show, that’s for sure – but maybe that’ll end up being a good thing. And hey, in a few years, maybe Jon will come out of retirement with a weekly show on HBO that’ll air during Oliver’s off-months, and we’ll just trade back and forth between the two for another decade (hey I can dream right?).

        ALL THE FIVES AND HUGS AND TEARS BACK ATCHA.

        • Vrai Kaiser says:

          I’ve been watching since it started, and I must say – it’s still basically the same show, but Larry’s really figured out what works or what the core of the thing is. It doesn’t have the sort of…awkward, I suppose, maybe even stilted feeling its way vibe it did before. And I think the panel segments sing in a way that’s very special.
          I don’t think Jon can stay in retirement either (my dream is to see him pop up over on TBS with Stephen for a bit – it physically hurt me when they stopped doing The Toss after a while, and those two have such a great rapport).

  2. Artemis says:

    It really does feel like the end of an era, doesn’t it? However, we can at least console ourselves with the fact that The Daily Show will be continuing on for the foreseeable future, albeit with a different guy at the helm. I have no idea what the fan reaction is to Trevor Noah, but I for one have a lot of confidence and am genuinely looking forward to what he brings to the table. Glad we get a bit of a break first, though – I’m not quite emotionally ready for new content just yet. In the meantime, I guess I have Last Week Tonight to tide me over.

    • Vrai Kaiser says:

      It truly is – and I’m always surprised how familiar he is outside the US. I mean, I know the show aired abroad, but the satire always felt so distinctly enmeshed in Being American (it’s a pleasant surprise though)
      And welcome back from vacation

      • Artemis says:

        It’s true that the show feels very distinctly American, so some of the jokes I just don’t get (particularly anything related to sports), but that’s not rare for NZ TV at least. We do have our own shows, but I’d say the majority of what airs over there is still American-produced. I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the same for most other English-speaking countries as well.

        Thanks! Technically I’m not actually back yet, but I do have a steady internet connection now. I won’t be back in Japan until next week though.

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