A Moment of Zen: Seven Stories Looking Back at Jon Stewart’s Fake-News Legacy

Photo: Cliff

Tonight, Jon Stewart ends his 16-year run as host of “The Daily Show.” Here are seven stories looking back at how Stewart became the most influential fake-news anchor in the history of television:

1. Is Jon Stewart the Most Trusted Man in America? (Michiko Kakutani, New York Times, Aug. 15, 2008)

“Hopefully the process is to spot things that would be grist for the funny mill,” Mr. Stewart, 45, said. “In some respects, the heavier subjects are the ones that are most loaded with opportunity because they have the most — you know, the difference between potential and kinetic energy? — they have the most potential energy, so to delve into that gives you the largest combustion, the most interest. I don’t mean for the audience. I mean for us. Everyone here is working too hard to do stuff we don’t care about.”

2. In Conversation: Jon Stewart (Chris Smith, New York Magazine, Nov. 2, 2014)

An interview with the Daily Show host about making movies, the 2016 election, and why everybody loves Stephen Colbert.

3. Is It Funny Yet? (Tad Friend, The New Yorker, Feb. 11, 2002)

On his second night of doing standup at a Manhattan club called the Bitter End, Stewart changed his name. He explained, “The host’s hesitation at trying to pronounce my name the first night bothered me. And,” he continued, hesitantly, “there was slight leftover resentment at the taunting. You don’t want a tauntable handle in show business. And”—Stewart’s instinct for privacy and his instinct for honesty wrestled at even greater length—“some leftover resentment at my family.” His face was blank, drained of its antic warmth. He added quickly, “But I didn’t really change my name—I just shortened it. I didn’t want to go as far as making it Dirk Cloud, or Poopy Joe, the Rodeo Clown.”

4. Jon Stewart and the Burden of History (Tom Junod, Esquire, Sept. 15, 2011)

Junod writes how Stewart went from a popular fake-news anchor to someone “important”:

Even as the media and politicians he mocked so relentlessly lost their moral compass, he found his. He saw wrong and tried to right it; saw suffering and tried to heal it; saw war and tried to stop it; saw his old friend Anthony Weiner’s penis and tried to make jokes about it…

Sorry. It’s just that when you’re talking about Jon Stewart, you’re never just talking about Jon Stewart. You’re invoking the Jon Stewart narrative — the collective fantasy about Jon Stewart — and it leads to all sorts of inappropriate historical comparisons. You can even play the Jon Stewart Game, in which you start telling his story and see how long it takes you to compare him to someone he should feel really uncomfortable being compared to. See, he really is just a man, and a man from New Jersey at that.

5. A Very Young Jon Stewart’s 1994 Interview With New York Magazine (Chris Smith, Vulture)

A profile of Jon Stewart from his MTV days:

Even with a cheesy set and an odd schedule — weeknights at 10, except Thursdays — Stewart is beginning to draw the hip, younger audience that eludes Late Night With Conan O’Brien. MTV will make the challenge more overt in February, when it moves Stewart to 12:30 a.m., directly opposite Conan.

By then, Stewart will have paid his cable bill and had his service reconnected. There’s one talk-show competitor he’s had his eye on for years. “Robin Byrd,” he says. “The other night I’d been dialing for an hour and I finally got through. I said, ‘I just want to tell you ladies, I fought in Vietnam, and you are the kind of people that make America worth dying for.’”

6. Jon Stewart and ‘The Daily Show’: 9 Essential Moments (Jeremy Egner, Dave Itzkoff, Kathryn Shattuck, The New York Times, Aug. 4, 2015)

“As Mr. Stewart’s tenure comes to a close, ‘Daily Show’ writers, producers and guests look back on key moments from the host’s 16-year run, and reflect upon his legacy.”

7. Fresh Air: Jon Stewart Retrospective

Moments from Stewart’s past interviews with Terry Gross, including Stewart recapping a particularly strong moment for the show, when Congress was failing to approve funds for 9/11 first responders for chronic health issues:

The ability to articulate our sense of just absolute sadness but through a prism of comedy, like – we came in on that morning just really despairing as we watched this go down. And we walked out that night feeling like we had yelled and felt, you know, we had – we put it through the prism and the synthesis and the digestive process that we put it through and we made ourselves feel better. And we didn’t make ourselves feel better by ignoring it, by dismissing it, by not dealing with it. We made ourselves feel better by expressing our utter rage at the ineptness and lack of courage from our legislators. And we walked out of there that night feeling like, you know what? [Expletive] good day’s work. That was it.