On Wednesday night, Hilary Kissinger, the Social Media Manager for the comedy theater and school Upright Citizens Brigade was refreshing the ticket page like a madwoman for the final taping of the Jon Stewart-hosted The Daily Show. The following night, ticket in hand, she attended that taping. Here's what she saw at the final, emotional #JonVoyage.
I asked Jon Stewart his final question from an audience member.
When Stewart's eyes roamed over the crowd, I just had this feeling that he'd land on me. And when they did, I took a breath and began my carefully crafted, very premeditated question, which I'd intended to begin by thanking him for what he's done for my people. Comedy people, that is.
"I work for UCB," I said, preparing to thank him for giving so many Upright Citizens Brigade performers and writers jobs over the past 16 years. But before I could, he was thanking us.
"We owe you guys a debt of gratitude for all the great people you've sent us over the years," he said. Given the opportunity for a follow-up question, I asked him if, with all the new time on his hands, if he'd come be the monologist at our long-running weekly improv show Asssscat.
"No, fuck that shit," he fired quickly, before smiling and saying he'd love to. And with a whirl of his arm like a general calling his troops to charge, he starts the show.
I think tomorrow I'll ask for a raise.
Stewart chafed against the suggestion that he was a newsman
Among my comedy friends and colleagues, The Daily Show has been not only a dream job to reach for, but also a basic touchstone for anyone working on topical material. If we're talking about a "desk piece" in a sketch class, we're thinking about Jon Stewart's desk.
It's impossible to overstate the influence TDS has had on a generation of comedians coming of age in the era of the 24-hour news cycle and the instantaneous transfer of information online. The grit and endurance of getting a show on the air every night, not to mention one that tackles events that occurred less than a day ago, makes writing that new 10 minutes of stand-up seem a lot less Herculean in comparison. Week after week, it's like Stewart was saying to us, "Come on, I'm making economic collapse funny. You can work harder."
Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and John Oliver have chafed against the suggestion that many people get their news from their shows. They'll always be comedians first, and reject the responsibility, the authority, and the hubris of being "newsmen." They don't frame their work as anything more than making people laugh.
But Jon Stewart's legacy at TDS isn't that he did "more than comedy." It's that comedy is more. Laughter is healing, but it's also surprising, condemning, inciting, and sometimes infuriating. It makes change in the world. Stewart isn't the first comedian to have an impact on the political landscape, but his consistent presence in American culture has given a new shape to comedy's identity. We recognize its power in new ways.
Stewart retreated to a corner, wiping his eyes
Jon's final monologue ended with a plea. He urged us to be vigilant of bullshit, and tweaked a classic homeland security catchphrase: if we smell something, say something. He may be passing The Daily Show on to its new host Trevor Noah in September, but he's passing the torch of bullshit-detection to all of us right now.
As Bruce Springsteen launched into "Land of Hopes and Dreams" for the closing act, Stewart could be seen returning to his wife and kids and retreating into a corner, wiping his eyes. Throughout the night he's been visibly holding back a well of emotion, puffing out his cheeks with sighs and fanning his face during commercial breaks. When the band shifted into "Born to Run," he ran out with his family to the stage, dancing at the center of a growing cluster of bodies, most of whom have been onstage or backstage earlier that night, some famous, some not. Comedy people. My people.
Thanks for starting the cluster, Jon. As Stephen Colbert said tonight, we're all better for knowing you — if not better comedians, then better bullshit-sniffers. Wherever you go next, we'll be watching... and smelling.