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Here’s how Jon Stewart told his ‘Daily Show’ audience that he’s stepping down

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Tuesday night on “The Daily Show,” Jon Stewart saved his bombshell news for the closing moments of the program — that after hosting the show since 1999, he will be stepping down this year.

[RELATED: Jon Stewart’s hardest truth: The time has come to wrap up the joke]

“As this show is airing, there may be information out there right now that the audience might not be aware of, so I will just tell you,” Stewart said to a likely confused studio audience. The Viacom president, Doug Herzog, and Comedy Central president Michelle Ganeless, he continued, “gave me an incredible opportunity 17 years ago to pilot this wonderful franchise. And 17 years is the longest I have ever in my life held a job by … 16 years and five months.”

[RELATED: Jon Stewart will be leaving “The Daily Show"]

There was a polite smattering of applause. “Thank you!” Stewart continued. “The upshot there being, I am a terrible employee. But in my heart I know it is time for someone else to have that opportunity.”

The studio audience, finally catching on, started to protest.

“I told you they didn’t know!” Stewart exclaimed. Then he got down to business: “Not right away. We’re still working on details. I’m up in September, might be around then. Might be December, might be July, we’re still working out details,” he said, referring to his contract status.

So … what’s next? “I don’t have any specific plans,” he offered. “I got a lot of ideas, I 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.”

Then, he got emotional. “You know, I’m not going to be here and try and sum up what this place has meant to me over the years. I couldn’t do that,” he said. “And we have plenty of time, and I’ve got a myriad of people to thank, and we’ll get to that over time. I’m not going anywhere tomorrow. But this show doesn’t deserve an even slightly restless host, and neither do you.”

“I don’t think I’m going to miss being on television every day; I’m going to miss coming here every day,” he said, clearly starting to tear up as he went on. “I love the people here, they’re the best. They’re creative and collaborative and kind — and that’s alliterative but it’s cheating, because it’s a K — you understand what I’m saying. I love them and respect them so much.”

“We love you, Jon!” yelled someone in the audience, breaking the tension just in time, as it looked like Stewart was about to cry.

Jon Stewart leaves ‘The Daily Show’

Television host Jon Stewart is seen on stage during a taping of "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" in New York, Wednesday Nov. 30, 2011. (AP Photo/Brad Barket)

He wrapped with this: “It’s been an absolute privilege. It’s been the honor of my professional life. And I thank you for watching it, for hate-watching it. Whatever reason you are tuning in for!” he said. “You get in this business with the idea that maybe you have a point of view and something to express — and to receive the feedback from that is the greatest feeling I could ask for.”

Then, he ended with his Moment of Zen bit: This time, a monkey washing a cat in a sink.

[This post, originally published at 11:54 p.m. on Tuesday, has been updated to include video of the announcement.]