Jon Stewart ended his 16½–year reign on The Daily Show Thursday night with laughter and dancing—and, yes, a fire-and-brimstone sermon against something he called “The Bullshitocracy,” a roundup of the usual suspects and celebrity guests, a couple of dick jokes (because what would The Daily Show be without a couple of dick jokes?), and even a performance by Stewart’s idol, the New Jersey-born Bruce Springsteen.
Stewart’s generally lighthearted mood—pretty dry-eyed considering the gravity of the moment, with only a tiny threat of loss of composure when he thanked his wife, Tracey, and his kids Nate and Maggie “for teaching me what joy looks like”—gave the lie to Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes’s description of the Comedy Central star as a man who “has a bitter view of the world.”
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Ailes—whose right-leaning cable channel has been one of Stewart’s fatter and juicier targets all these years—conceded that the retiring fake newsman is “a brilliant comedian,” “a very nice guy,” and “a good father.”
But while protesting that the political satirist and razor-sharp media critic never drew Fox blood, and that Stewart failed in his treasured quest to “get rid of Roger Ailes”—something I doubt crossed Stewart’s mind, given that Ailes has been great for business—the Fox News founder claimed that he could tell Stewart is bitter because “you see it embodied in how he’s reacting to Fox News, equating it with death.”
Yet Ailes and his cable channel went all but on unmentioned on Stewart’s valedictory program, although the top of the show featured shtick on that other momentous television event occurring Thursday night—the Fox News-orchestrated inaugural Republican presidential candidate debate.
Because Stewart’s final show aired well after the debate at 11 p.m. but was taped well before the overhyped battle between Donald Trump and nine other GOP White House wannabes—and media reporters watched a live feed of The Daily Show with an invited audience at The Nightly Show studio, a couple of blocks away on Manhattan’s West Side—Stewart and correspondents Jessica Williams, Hasan Minhaj, and Jordan Klepper had to make it up as they went along.
Just like the real pundits, presumably.
“The first Republican presidential debate wrapped up—it was incredible—and so articulate,” Stewart declared to audience laughter. “I feel something of a responsibility, nay, an obligation, to devote the entirety of our last show to our standard post-debate full-team coverage.”
“Jeb did well,” Jessica Williams pronounced, standing in front of a green screen backdrop of the Cleveland debate venue.
Scott Walker was “solid,” Minhaj enthused.
“I can’t believe Trump took out his penis so late in the debate,” Klepper analyzed—dick joke No. 1.
There followed an appearance by nearly every performer who ever was part of The Daily Show cast—literally dozens—including a prosperous-looking and full-bearded Steve Carell, Stewart’s predecessor as host Craig Kilborn (also, bearded and filled-out, and wearing what looked like an ascot and smoking jacket and adopting the creepy mien of Christopher Walken’s “The Continental”), Stephen Colbert, John Oliver, and even South African comic Trevor Noah.
The 31-year-old Noah, who debuts as the 52-year-old Stewart’s successor on September 28, came onstage for a bit of business in which he interrupted the retiring host to wield a tape measure to calculate the size of various items such as the anchor desk, the flat screen behind it—and Stewart’s crotch.
Dick joke No. 2.
The Daily Show’s former senior black correspondent, Larry Wilmore—whose Nightly Show was preempted by Thursday night’s extended farewell—showed up at the desk to complain to Stewart about being bumped.
“I have nothing else to do tonight,” he kvetched. “Black shows matter, Jon,” he added.
Even former cast member Wyatt Cenac, bearded and big-haired and looking a little like Cornel West, got a cameo appearance, in which he affected boredom and chilly apathy over Stewart’s repeated invitations to the wrap party.
Apparently all is forgiven for Cenac’s very off-message interview with podcast interrogator Marc Maron, in which he revealed that he and the Comedy Central star had some unpleasant encounters over Stewart’s alleged racial insensitivity.
Indeed, when all the former cast members were shown in a group-hug onstage, Stewart made a point of throwing his arms around Cenac and giving him a heartwarming squeeze.
And, of course, there was video featuring a cavalcade of Daily Show targets ushering Stewart to the door:
*Paul Brown, the chief executive of Arby’s restaurant chain: “Jon Stewart—it’s like a TV threw up on your face.”
*Chris Christie: “I’ll never forget you, Jon. But I will be trying.”
*Charlie Rangel: “Good riddance, smartass!”
*Hillary Clinton: “And just when I’m running for president. What a bummer.”
*Mika Brzezinski: “See ya, pipsqueak!”
*Rahm Emanuel: “What has nine and a half fingers, and won’t miss you at all. This guy.”
*John Kerry: “You know, there are a lot of things happening around the world that keep me up at night—which is why I’ve relied on you to put me to sleep.”
*John McCain (manipulating a Jon Stewart hand-puppet): “I’m Jon Stewart. I’m dumb. I’m stupid. Nyah nyah nyah. So long, jackass!”
After all that insult comedy, however, it was left to former Daily Show correspondent Colbert—over the aw-shucks protests of his host—to slather Stewart with heartfelt praise.
“We owe you, and not just for what you did for our career, by employing us to come on this tremendous show you made,” Colbert insisted. “We owe you because we learned from you. We learned from you by example how to do a show with intention, how to work with clarity, how to treat people with respect. You are infuriatingly good at your job!”
And so on and so forth.
Stewart delivered an impassioned attack on “The Bullshitocracy”—that is, government and corporate obfuscation and lying that it was his mission to expose—gave a last piece of advice to his audience: “If you sniff something, say something.”
Meanwhile, he reflected on what the show has meant to him.
“I’ve been in show business a long time. I’ve worked in a lot of different atmospheres at varying levels of toxicity,” he said. “And this is the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. And I’ll never have that again. And I’ve had to come to terms with that before leaving.”