Thursday, April 16, 2015


When I first heard that Jon Stewart announced that he was leaving “The Daily Show”, part of me died inside. I wouldn’t normally use language like that, and while I have been unable to post regularly due a continuous and severely inability to post on the internet for-, what I think only a month but might as well be ten years at this rate, now, even before I was delaying a planned post on this news. Frankly, I just didn’t want to do it. If I did, it would seem real and I wanted to belay that feeling. I know the easy comparison to make is that of Johnny Carson leaving, I’ve made it myself. I was around for Carson. I was young but, and this is a notorious story in my family, I constantly stayed up late at night even as a baby and watch “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson” and “Late Night with David Letterman”, and they usually go on right when it seemed like I was about to go to sleep, but then I would wake up again for them. When I was old enough, I had a little one-inch screen TV like housewives would used to have in a kitchen, on my nightstand, which I kept on all night until it was taken away from me after I fell asleep. I watched Carson’s show. (And Letterman’s last NBC show come to think of it), and I remember that feeling of the era that was passing. Yet, this is something different. Johnny Carson was the master, there’s no denying that; he was the greatest talk show host, nobody could compete with him. He didn’t exactly reinvent or re-imagine the talk show much, he didn’t invent the monologue, the format, the guests, yeah-, he did certain things, but he was just the best as a talk show host. Jon Stewart, completely reinvented and changed the way we think about talk shows.

I’ve talked about the history and the legacy of “The Daily Show” before and people do forget that it existed before he took over. The idea of basically a comedic news show wasn't even particularly new, people have been satirizing the news in some ways forever. 

Before I get to that though, remember, Comedy Central at the time, was basically a channel scouring the globe for any kind of comedic content at the time, I remember seeing old Abbott & Costello movies on the channel, old sitcoms like “Soap” and “The Odd Couple,” and seeing things like “Kids in the Hall” and the original British “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” It was the channel that aired “Absolutely Fabulous” and practically any stand-up comedy they could find. I wouldn't be shocked if I can quote every single “Gallagher” stand-up special, they used to re-air them on the weekends. Every weekend. It’s hard to explain this adequately, but Comedy Central wasn’t a network that you took seriously. Even among cable channels, it just kinda existed. Nobody thought anything would come of “The Daily Show”, it wasn’t on a major network, it didn’t look or seem like a real talk show, the market was already oversaturated and frankly, most everybody was still kinda waiting to see whether Leno or Letterman would ever win out eventually over the other.

It took awhile, but it caught on. The one thing it didn't have was Jon Stewart. Craig Kilbourn was actually the original host of “The Daily Show”, and he was funny and good in a detached pseudo-egotistical kinda way. The fact it's strange to think now, that he actually kinda got big enough to eventually get “The Late Late Show”, yes, he was the host of that before Craig Ferguson took over, ‘cause “The Daily Show…” wasn't a legacy at the time, it was thought of as a jumping off point for someone else actually. Kilbourn was good actually, but he was sorta detached from the news, really. Nobody ever thought of him as attacking either party or being bias or anything. He kinda approached the show the way Dennis Miller or Chevy Chase had done the “Weekend Update” segments on “SNL”. He was making fun of the news more than he was actually lambasting it. If anything, the biggest complaint I ever remembered hearing about him was that he sometimes made fun of people who were recently deceased, which he did. The show was broken up, more like a parody of "The Nightly News", with Tom Brokaw or someone like that. First the headlines, then the other news, and like a newspaper you get to the living section and you make fun of that too. He actually came from the news world, granted it was “SportsCenter” and even before then he was based in the sports world originally, but there was still this essential detachment he had from the show. They were doing comedic reports and such, but it wasn't what I would consider a strong point of view. The biggest thing most people remember about him on “The Daily Show” was the “5 Questions” segment that he would ask guests, which was often a bit absurd and that he brought to he then brought his future shows instead.

When Jon Stewart took over, he came originally from the comedic world. He actually had a relatively successful talk show on MTV at one point but it had been canceled for a couple years and frankly I didn't even remember that show until I happen to stumble upon clips of it. There’s a great one on Youtube of his last episode of that show where he interviewed David Letterman that’s cool to watch now. It wasn't clear in the beginning what he was gonna do either, but partly fate and partly inevitability took over. Since it was a fake news show, and they started covering things like the 2000 Election like a real news show kinda would, only satirically. They weren't exactly like Carson, bringing you the news of the day in the monologue anymore, they slowly started targeting the Presidency and the absurdity of the 24-hour news coverage, especially since Fox News started bursting onto the scene ripe with misinformation to show. There was an anger and frustration with the “The Daily Show” that really wasn't there before. It was a point of view. They were the ones leading the way when they said “The Emperor has no clothes”, no matter who the Emperor was.  Eventually, they did it so well, they accidentally started stumbling upon actual news. The way he approached this new show completely changed the variety show format and their presence on the television landscape. Reinvented it completely in fact. He turned “The Daily Show” into an institution. Not just because of the persons who’ve held that show, or even just regulars on the show, which when Letterman hands the reigns over to Colbert, will now leave three “The Daily Show” acolytes who are also carving out their own part of their history in the golden renaissance of Variety Talk Show.

4, actually, now that Trevor Noah is named as Stewart’s replacement. I lost money in that pool betting on Samantha Bee, but actually, Noah makes sense. He’s got that outsider sharp-witted observant perspective that Stewart looks for. Have you noticed how many times he’s seeked people from outside the United States for his shows? John Oliver is British, Samantha Bee and Jason Jones are Canadians originally, Aasif Mandhvi,- well, I don’t know if he’s from India or not, but he’s always tried to get an eclectic perspective on America, with a collection of crew from numerous different backgrounds. Great up-and-coming comics and actors, who are genuinely funny and quickly are making stars out of them. I’m not sure on what to think about Noah’s whole Twitter controversy, I’m sure we’ll see about that, but it seems like he’s as good as choice as any to replace Stewart, not that, that would've been an easy choice no matter who was selected. There really isn't a tree that spreads out wider across the late night landscape than “The Daily Show”. Even people we could hypothetically consider protégés of Carson, like Dick Cavett and Joan Rivers, only Leno and Letterman really came out of that as far as truly leaving a mark and Late Night legacy behind. (Well, I guess you can say Cavett did too, but he wasn't really appreciated that way until much later)

Jon Stewart really did change so much of how we look at the world. It’s a transformative show and it’s because Jon Stewart made it so. A satirical news show that went after the news and then, accidentally became more legitimate than much of the news for doing so. Careers, have been made from “The Daily Show” in Washington and in Hollywood. It’s a true force to be reckoned with, in the news media. I don’t know how that happened, I don’t think Jon Stewart intended that to be happen, but it just kinda did. The thing was there to be made fun, and, synchronicity occured, with the perfect host and the perfect format to make fun it, Jon Stewart caught zeitgeist at the right moment. In the internet age, there’s a cultural, societal and political awareness of the world at-large that frankly might not have existed if it wasn’t for someone like Jon Stewart finding a comedic way of putting it into our living rooms, and it’s gonna stay there and become more and more relevant as the years go on, as long as there’s people like Stewart out there and right now, there’s more than we ever really thought there would be. There are very few figures in television history that we can truly say changed the game, much less the culture to the extent Stewart has. Frankly, there’s nothing more shattering to know that he’s not going to be there to expose the hypocrisies, but it’s good to know others will be. Continuing on and expanding the trail he blazed.  

Still though, there’s a piece of me that wonders about how Jon Stewart would approach of discuss whatever new piece of ridiculousness the news media or Washington puts out in the future. It’s the same part of me that had me crying for a week after George Carlin passed away. Well, not quite, there will never be another George Carlin. I know, he’s got some disciples too, but, you knew that he would have the ultimate perspective on such things and I guess it’s hard to say Stewart’s voice won’t still be prevalent after he’s not on television regularly, but…. You know, once upon a time, Edward R. Murrow proved that a newsman does indeed trump a Senator when he went after Joe McCarthy, in many ways, Stewart proves that a satirist can trump a Senator and a newsman, especially in these modern times where the news isn’t exactly as fair and balanced as some of them claim to be, on either side. It's seems bizarre that we're putting the legacy of Edward R. Murrow and comparing it in modern times to someone like Jon Stewart, but frankly, yeah, that's an accurate comparison. I don't know what that says about the state of the news media now, but I'm sure Jon Stewart would make that observation funny. And make you think about it. 

Huh. I started this piece on Jon Stewart talking about Johnny Carson and ended it talking about Edward R. Murrow. 

No comments: