The Brilliance, and Necessity, of Jon Stewart
In an increasingly volatile political climate, viewers are realizing that while his jokes eased the pain, it was Stewart’s sincerity that the country needed.
By Lauren Grimaldi, Roosevelt University
In 1999, Comedy Central gave the then relatively unknown Jon Stewart a shot, hiring him to replace Craig Kilborn as host of “The Daily Show” (TDS).
Sixteen years later, the comedian hosted his final episode of the greatest achievement of his career, and in doing so etched his name into the imaginary comedy hall of fame. He is, to me and many others, someone who should be entrenched in history as a man who changed the world of political satire forever, making him an absolute legend.
While his utter genius is clear from just a mere glimpse at his work, it’s also visible in his ability to help people rocket to stardom.
Stephen Colbert, through appearances on “The Daily Show,” is the most notable star to rise to fame, and there’s no doubt that he would not have had the privilege of taking over for David Letterman had he not done so well with “TDS” and “The Colbert Report.” Steve Carell also got his big break on “TDS,” eventually leading to his phenomenal career as a movie star, and of course, as the hilarious Michael Scott in “The Office.”
Jessica Williams is most likely the next big star to have developed under Stewart’s wing, and she has the most promise yet. Samantha Bee, Larry Wilmore and John Oliver have all gone on to host their own “TDS”-inspired shows, and it is only a matter of time before Williams gets a talk show of her own.
After watching so many of his coworkers reach fame, Jon Stewart was not one to get jealous and resent the success of those around him. In fact, he could not be happier to see his friends reach stardom. This shows who he is as a man and why he deserves recognition as one of the best people in the industry today. His humility is such an utter rarity amongst his peers, and as such, his greatness goes far beyond his ability to make people laugh until they cry.
And almost a year out from his retirement from “TDS,” it is clear that the world is worse off without him.
In addition to being a comforting figure at times of despair, Stewart possesses an incredible talent to evoke human empathy. His humor is sorely missed without a doubt, but his underrated sense of how to make his viewers feel better has left a large void in the world of television.
The showman’s brilliance is best exemplified through moments in which he dropped the sarcasm and spoke sincerely. After every horrible occurrence, it seemed that Jon Stewart was there to make us, his viewers, feel better. From his tearful reaction to the September 11th terrorist attacks to impassioned speeches on issues of race and inequality, Stewart is so much more than just an average comedian. While many professional funny people comment on the issues plaguing America, none have been able to do so with such incredible meaning.
Case in point, following the horrific mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in which 26 children were murdered, Mr. Stewart opened his show with a fervent speech in reaction to one of the most horrific massacres the United States has ever seen.
In fact, while there have been plenty of hilarious late night television show hosts, Stewart is the only one who has helped enact change into our government as well. He has been a major voice in fighting to ensure that 9/11 first responders and veterans receive the excellent physical and mental health care that they deserve. Stewart lobbied with the very people affected by these issues the most, showing that his commitment to their struggles went far beyond getting viewers.
And his lobbying worked, too. Soon after his meetings in Congress regarding the 9/11 first responders bill, it was passed through the legislature. Obviously there were many more moving parts than just the actions of Mr. Stewart, but his message was powerful enough to help get a bill passed through the quagmired Congress.
Stewart also had a special knack for holding news organizations accountable for their reporting skills. The most wonderfully infamous example of this is his appearance on CNN’s “Crossfire.” Stewart made a guest appearance on the show in which he tried to reason with host Tucker Carlson on why his program was problematic. The show itself was dedicated to showing different sides of a debate on an issue, but, as Stewart noted in his appearance on the show, debate often turned into more of a shouting match.
Stewart addressed his concerns with the show, but Carlson went on to say that he only wanted the comedian on the show to be funny. In response to this, Stewart said “I’m not going to be your monkey.” Such a reaction proves that he doesn’t desire to just go out and get laughs all the time, a trait that not all comedians possess.
There are hordes of television hosts voicing their political opinions, but few have done so with the gravitas of Mr. Stewart. He doesn’t stop at cultivating viewership, but is instead more than willing to go the extra mile and actually do something (i.e. lobbying, or his 2010 Rally to Restore Sanity), to make an honest effort in enacting real change.
Another prime example of Stewart’s compassion as both a person and celebrity can be seen in his first feature film as a director “Rosewater.” “The Daily Show” once featured a segment in which correspondent Jason Jones interviewed Iranian-Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari. Despite the clear comedic nature of the segment in which Jones accused Bahari of being a spy, the Iranian government used it as evidence against the journalist when they captured him and used it, in part, to prove he was indeed a spy.
The journalist was held in Iran’s Evin Prison, a prison notorious for holding the country’s political prisoners, for 118 days. During his time there he was tortured by his captors and faced the reality of not making it out alive. Bahari’s story is emblematic of the plight that so many Iranian journalists face due to the harsh manner in which their government treats them, and that matter was finally brought to light because Stewart was concerned enough to make an entire film about Bahari’s story.
After his eventual release from the prison, his memoir “Then They Came for Me,” was released and documented his experiences in capture. And because Stewart felt so terrible about indirectly causing his imprisonment that he featured Bahari multiple times on the show, and eventually went on to direct a feature film based on Bahari’s memoir. While fame can only get you so much, this is yet another prime example of Jon Stewart using his stardom to tell an important story and illuminate a key issue that everyone needs to be aware of.
Though many celebrities can often seem inauthentic or pandering, Stewart has never suffered that problem.
He does little to draw attention to all of the good he has done, only asking for press attention when such coverage can highlight larger issues within our society.
In his retirement from “TDS,” the comedian has helped out his wife, Tracey, on their animal sanctuary farms which started on an idea from Tracey herself. Her book, “Do Unto Animals,” is just one of the many highlights of her philanthropy in animal rights. Her husband’s power as a celebrity has helped her cause see an increase in recognition, and has shown the true goodness that the Stewart family is putting into the world aside from just political commentary.
Not many famous can say that they have truly made the world a better place, but Jon Stewart can easily make that claim. The world seems to be in more turmoil than ever with recent massacres in Orlando, San Bernadino and more, and we could use a calming voice in the never ending discourse around the world’s issues.
Even the 2016 election would benefit greatly from some great satire by Stewart. There’s no doubt he’s itching to poke fun at Donald Trump and the GOP for the jokes their party has softballed writers over the past year. The world is a better place when Jon Stewart has a regular voice in our culture, and when he comes back, a deep void of reason and logic will once again be filled by a man who is easily one of the best satirists to ever exist.
Stewart recently inked a deal to create projects for HBO though what exactly that will entail remains very vague. However it does mean his return, whether it be big or small, is in the works, and for those who admire and respect him so greatly, it cannot come fast enough.