Jon Stewart, who pushed political comedy into a new realm with a show that relayed news by parodying the news, will leave “The Daily Show” later this year after 16 years at the helm, Comedy Central announced Tuesday night.
To a younger generation of viewers who stopped watching network news, his late-night “fake” news show — which particularly delighted in skewering politicians and the media — made him a trusted messenger to millions.
Since its launch with Stewart as host — he took over the program in 1999 from Craig Kilborn — “The Daily Show” has routinely racked up awards. It won the outstanding variety series Emmy for 10 years in a row.
Stewart, 52, who often emphasized that he is a comedian rather than a news anchor, truly made his mark during the 2000 presidential election with his “Indecision 2000” coverage of the George W. Bush and Al Gore recount in Florida. Afterward, everything on the show clicked, and Stewart emerged as the star of the comedy network — especially during the Bush administration, when the stentorian and seemingly exasperated host would take on the policies of Bush, vice president Dick Cheney and defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
Stewart broke the news of his departure to his audience during the show’s taping in New York. Almost immediately on social media, the tweets started from people who witnessed the announcement. One of them was David Axelrod, a former adviser to President Obama:
— David Axelrod (@davidaxelrod) February 11, 2015
Over the years, Stewart’s team of deadpan “correspondents” also became comedy stars, including Stephen Colbert, John Oliver, Steve Carell, Larry Wilmore, Ed Helms, Samantha Bee and Jason Jones. Colbert went on to star on “The Colbert Report” for nearly a decade before departing in December to take over for late-night veteran David Letterman on CBS.
“The Daily Show’s” steady rise coincided with the popularity of Internet video, as clips from Stewart’s broadcast frequently circulated on the Web the following day. They often featured him mocking the 24-hour cable news cycle, and he became known for taking aim at Fox News Channel and CNN. As such, Stewart became a serious pundit in his own right — albeit one who amply punctuated his commentary with expletives.
“Jon has been at the heart of Comedy Central, championing and nurturing the best talent in the industry, in front of and behind the camera,” the network said in a statement Tuesday. “Through his unique voice and vision, ‘The Daily Show’ has become a cultural touchstone for millions of fans and an unparalleled platform for political comedy that will endure for years to come.”
A darling of liberals, Stewart made headlines for his ongoing self-proclaimed “feud” with Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly, which culminated in a live debate called “The Rumble in the Air-Conditioned Auditorium” in 2012.
Stewart’s impact could also be measured off-screen. His 2010 Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear in Washington brought hundreds of thousands to the Mall to see Stewart and his fellow Comedy Central star Colbert take the stage and encourage people to participate in politics and civil discourse despite the seemingly hopeless partisan gridlock in Washington.
As for “The Daily Show,” some suspected that Stewart’s departure appeared imminent last summer when he took three months off to direct a feature film, “Rosewater,” about journalist Maziar Bahari’s imprisonment in Iran.
In an interview with The Washington Post in November, Stewart wouldn’t discuss future career plans other than joking that they included “a nap.” He also dismissed the suggestion that he would run for political office, and laughingly shot down the idea that people — even those who see him as a trusted figure — would vote for him.
“You don’t know that,” he said, “except in the way that people would vote for a second-string quarterback to take over for the first-string quarterback if they are feeling frustration at their team’s goals.”
The specific timing of Stewart’s departure was not announced. The network statement said only that the host would leave “later this year.” His contract expires in the fall.
Losing a marquee host is a tough loss for Comedy Central, though the statement made sure to note that the program — which regularly attracts about a million viewers a night — “will endure for years to come.”
It is the latest in a long line of changes in the Comedy Central late-night lineup. Besides Colbert’s departure, John Oliver — who at one point appeared to be Stewart’s likely successor — also left last year to host the breakout hit “Last Week Tonight” on HBO. Larry Wilmore, also a potential hosting option as a “Daily Show” standout, recently started his own “Nightly Show” on the network, replacing Colbert.
Here’s Comedy Central’s full statement:
Video: Late-night laughs