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‘It’s time for someone else,’ says The Daily Show host, who’s unsure of what’s next





vmenon@thestar. ca


Jon Stewart has no clear plan for the future.

What he does know is it’s time to break from the present, time to step away from the crushing grind of late night TV. He’s tired. He’s restless. He wants to spend more time with his family. So on Tuesday night, he told the world what his inner circle and execs at Comedy Central already knew: he’s leaving The Daily Show.

“In my heart, I know it is time for someone else to have that opportunity,” said Stewart, as the studio audience gasped. ”I don’t have any specific plans,” he continued, slapping his desk to tamp down his  emotions. “Got a lot of ideas. Got a lot of things in my head. I’m going to have dinner, on a school night, with my family, who I have heard from multiple. sources are lovely people.”

And just like that, TV lost one of its most beloved stars.

If Stewart’s looming departure feels like blunt-force trauma, that’s because his intelligence, wit and sense of the absurd were such a revelation when he inher­ited the anchor desk in 1999.

Under his sardonic eye, The Dairy Show soon morphed from an unwatched comedy with a frat-house sensibility into a cultural touchstone, one that would reshape the boundaries oflate night TV.

Its official designation, as a “fake news” program, was a misnomer. Over the years, polls would show that viewers, especially younger ones, trusted Stew­art as a merchant of truth. He was an antidote to the grinning bafflegab coming from real talking heads.

He often tackled politics and current affairs with a depth that could make the real TV news programs feel shallow and hopelessly adrift.

Yes, comedy was the main goal. But by mocking the media, by subjecting political leaders to withering derision, Stewart became a kind of moral compass as America stumbled into the new millennium


Stewart played  jester to a bumbling king


The controversial 2000 election, which created a template for the show’s ”Indecision” political cov­erage, would give way to harrowing, confusing times, including the ter­rorist attacks on Sept 11. 2001, sub­sequent war in Iraq, financial melt­down, escalating cultural wars and a spike in cross-party hostility.

During this epoch of crazy, Stewart became a supplier of sanity.

With George W. Bush cast as the bumbling king, Stewart embraced the role of court jester. At the time, Jay Leno and David Letterman dominated late night But until Stewart came along, exploiting a new format that allowed for running commentary impossible in a tradi­tional monologue, the punch lines lobbed from New York rarely cra­tered in Washington.

The most amazing part was that Stewart was throwing grenades on cable, which then had a fraction of the audience, reach and cachet Cable gave hima chance. Or as he told me in 2002: ”Well, it’s like any­thing that dilutes the talent pool. It’s like when Major League Baseball expands. Guys like me don’t get a chance to play with the Yankees and the Braves. But if you expand, hell I can make it on the Tampa Bay’s team.

As TV expanded, Stewart found his voice.

It was a voice that had great range, shifting between gleeful scorn and righteous indignation. 

It was a voice that was feared and respected, as  was evident in 2004 when Stewart  was a guest on CNNs Crossfire to promote his new book, America (The Book): A Citizen’s Guide to Democracy Inaction. Instead he picked a fight with the hosts, especially Tucker Carlson.  He critized the show’s left-right shouting and the insidious impact on national discourse.

Not long after he encouraged the dazed hosts to “Stop Hurting America,”  CNN seemed to agree: Crossfire  was cancelled and Stewart was on his way to becoming a bogeyman to the political right.

The court jester was also a king­ maker. He discovered lots of new talents while nurturing other con­tributors who were otherwise rele­gated to the margins. A list of past Daily Show correspondents who found even brighter spotlights now includes Ed Helms, Steve Carell, John Oliver, Larry Wilmore and Stephen Colbert, who will take over for Letterman and in some ways surpassed his mentor.

Stewart is not leaving just yet. But his contract is up in September and Comedy Central will need a new host ready for the fall push. So ex­pect him to take his final bow this summer. The man who twice hosted the Academy Awards, recently directed his first feature film and has boxes of Emmys knows his future is limitless, even if he’s not quite sure what comes next.

What his fans want to know is, ”Why does he have to leave at all?”

At 52, Stewart is relatively young in the late night game. But the 9 to 9 workdays, which he’s endured for more than 16 years, were taking a toll. When he started, he was not yet a father.Now his kids are 10 and 8. He’s missed a lot of school concerts and soccer games. If you listen carefully to an interview he gave to Howard Stern in November, there are moments in which he sounds like he’s attempting self-therapy, struggling to reconcile work and family life.

That elusive balance is also why  The Daily Show was such a functional workplace compared with many of the poisonous snakepits  elsewhere in late night.  A few years  ago,  when I had coffee with David Javerbaum, the show’s former head  writer and executive producer, he put it this way:

“Jon doesn’t believe  in a culture of, ‘Let’smake people work for no reason and let’s have people sit around just to prove that they are tough.’ It’s like, ‘Get  the work done, focus, get it right and  then we’re done.’  

“And because he’s a normal person,  he not only has a family but he likes his family.”            

Or as Stewart told viewers on Tuesday: ”This show doesn’t deserve an even slightly restless host and neither do you.”

He’s restless. He’s tipping the life balance toward his family.

”You get in this business with the idea that maybe you have a view and something to express,” Stewart continued, his eyes getting  moist “And to receive feedback  from that is the greatest feeling you  could ask for.  And I thank you.”

To his fans around the globe, the feeling was mutual.

Now here it is, Jon, your moment of Zen.
































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