I don’t remember when I started watching the Daily Show, but I do remember flying to Washington, D.C. with my mother for the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear in October of 2010. I remember standing in the happy, loving crowd on the national mall in a spot where I had a clear view of the monitors and could see Jon Stewart’s face if I stood on my tiptoes.
Sharing a presence with Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and their other fans was one of the greatest moments of my life. I’m sure I’m far from alone in saying that Jon Stewart raised me.
That was the sentiment shared by Stewart’s correspondents in tonight’s final episode of his run on the Daily Show. Most of them were there, and Colbert thanked Stewart, on their behalf, for teaching them all to be better reporters and comedians. And the rest of us were at home, thanking him for teaching us to be better people.
There are a lot of reasons to love Jon Stewart, and many closer to him than I have taken the time to remember his best moments. I want to talk about what Stewart–his presence, his method–did for his viewers. Because, in the long time I’ve been watching his show, there have been plenty of moments in which we needed him there to restore our sanity.
Through all the tragedies, frustrations, and fatigues of the past sixteen years (yes, sixteen!), Jon Stewart has remained buoyant without ever being glib. He has remained sharply critical yet has (almost) never become shrill. He has had a clear satirical eye on American current events yet maintained a gleeful sense of humor. In short, he has allowed us to examine the problems in our country while releasing the emotional stress involved in such a monumental task.
There has been a lot of talk about what or who will fill the hole where Stewart’s presence was, but on tonight’s finale, the focus was on the proliferation of people he’s influenced, befriended, and even critiqued during his time on the show. Correspondents discussed how he has shaped a generation of comedians, but his legacy goes far beyond comedy. Stewart has shaped a generation–my generation–of thinkers, voters, and consumers of news.
That’s why it’s not enough just to thank Jon Stewart for all he’s done for us. We must take these words from a monologue he gave tonight to heart: “Bullshit is everywhere…when you smell it, say something.”
Jon Stewart is stepping down, and it’s time for his viewers to step up. To all those who, like me, grew and learned along with the show, I say: be the Jon Stewart you wish to see in the world.