This is more than a beloved comedian leaving the stage. David Letterman meant so much to the world of comedy, but Jon Stewart’s impact belongs to the world, even if his legacy is one of enhancing the debate more than it is one of impactful change.
The guy who made us laugh, made us think, and served as our anger and outrage avatar while telling truth to power and anyone else who would listen, Stewart built a check against the imbalance of the press and the powerful on the foundation of what Lizz Winstead and Madeline Smithberg created in 1996. A check that Trevor Noah hasn’t been given power over, but one that he has been entrusted with.
For 16 years, Jon Stewart was there, but tonight he signs off and we are left with only our memories of his unsurpassable run and the incalculable impact of his presence. So, in an effort to cope, we’re going to share our favorite memories, you’re going to share yours in the comments, and nobody is going to eat pizza with a f*cking knife and fork!
I’ll get things started with…
“It’s Not A F*ckin Game!”
In the midst of the financial crisis, perceived victims — the long-term unemployed and the foreclosed upon — suddenly became targets for animosity, specifically by Rick Santelli, who went on CNBC to deliver a harsh takedown against borrowers in need of a bailout. A rant that infuriated Stewart, who set his sights on the financial news network and their personnel, most notably Jim Cramer, who Stewart invited to his studio for an interview that turned into an interrogation. The highlight? Stewart voicing the frustration of millions of Americans by reminding the financial market’s most excitable cheerleader that playing with people’s life savings and retirement funds wasn’t, “a f*cking game.” A hollow victory by one TV rich guy against another that did little to better anyone’s situation, but a victory all the same. – Jason Tabrys
It was sometime around 2010-2011 when I get the feeling that Jon Stewart’s comedic frustration with politics in America grew into actual anger. Exposing the same fallacies year after year and not seeing any actual change (in fact, seeing just the opposite) almost seemed to transform Jon Stewart. In a way, that anger gave him a second wind. I like to point to this segment on Class Warfare during a non-election year that prompted the beginning of that second wind. In it, he expresses frustration with the Republican’s desire to fix the deficit by increasing taxes on the “poor, or the bottom 50 percent who control a whopping 2.5 percent of America’s wealth. But don’t worry about the poor, Republicans say. “Ninety-nine percent of them have refrigerators! You food-chilling motherf*ckers! How dare you!” – Dustin Rowles
I love Jon Stewarts takedowns as much as the next person, but when he allows himself to be wowed by one of his guests, he proves himself to be one of us, which is what makes us love him. The best example that I can remember is his interview with Malala Yousafazi. He starts off with saying that nothing makes him feel better than making her laugh, which, in any other situation, might sound like he’s being a dirty old man if he wasn’t so obviously humbled by receiving such validation from an amazing young woman. He’s in awe of her, and his own fatherhood clearly plays into how impressed he is by her. He also lets Malala tell her story, which has always been his greatest talent, making his guests look good instead of him. (Which is, I should say, one of the first things you learn in comedy — making your scene partner look good.) Jon Stewart is a fantastically unselfish interviewer, and this was a prime example. That’s what I’ll miss. – Jamie Frevele
In 2011, House Majority Kevin Leader McCarthy showed fellow House Republicans a questionable scene from the violent crime drama The Town to rally their support for House Speaker John Boehner’s proposed debt ceiling bill. Stewart starts by perfectly addressing the outright absurdity of it all, while trying to dissect its intended metaphor, adding “I’m gonna assume the whole Tea Party coalition has not seen the movie.” Following it up with Senator Chuck Schumer’s response, which he appropriately dubs “Chuck Schumer’s meshuganah movie movie breakdown show.” It’s a run-of-the-mill moment that showcases Stewart in top form, skewering everyone involved with comedic precision. – Christian Long
The Curious Case Of Flight 370
It’s been over a year since the tragic disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 and not much progress has been made in the way of answers – but that’s not for CNN’s lack of trying, and trying, and speculating, and trying. Cue Stewart. Jon left the actual “coverage” to CNN, and instead covered their over-coverage (got that?). CNN really took it to a ridiculous level, quickly running out of actual facts to report so instead relying on things like fake airplanes and even holographic airplanes. “Oh shit we’ve got 23 hours and 59 minutes left to fill… and they did,” Stewart summarizes in the clip. He really lets it rip when the show’s anchors launch into lengthy far-fetched segments. How long can one possibly discuss a black hole as a viable option for a missing aircraft? Long.
Stewart parlayed CNN’s nearly month-long “baseless speculation” into two more hilarious clips, dubbing the struggling network the “‘duh’ room.” The man is truly at his best when others are at their worst. – Lindsay Kimble
Chaos On Bullsh*t Mountain
As the impeding Presidential election looms large over any and all political discourse these days, it is disheartening to face the prospect of an election without Stewart’s astute and hilarious brand of commentary. Bullsh*t Mountain became a mainstay in his coverage of the 2012 election, born out of an instance of Mitt Romney sounding especially Bond villain-esque. While Fox News will certainly be glad to see the back of him and Stewart is obviously left-leaning, it must be said that he did shine a light on both sides of the aisle, calling out hypocrisy wherever he saw it. While Stewart is leaving the show in (hopefully) capable hands, the slog up the sides of Bullsh*t Mountain is about to get a bit more arduous. – Alyssa Fikse
Let’s go all the way back to the beginning. I was a big fan of Craig Kilborn the talk show host, because he was so dry and somehow charmingly smug with the way he delivered silly news or just a joke. But I was always such a bigger fan of Jon Stewart the stand-up comedian, because I remember watching his appearance for the Cam Neely special and retelling his proctologist bit to my friends for months. It was because of Stewart that I wanted to be a self-deprecating comedian who cursed a lot, smoked cigarettes, and talked about vulgar things like doctors who are pissed off because they looked inside my b-hole. So when Stewart took over The Daily Show, I was excited but I was more relieved that he was phasing out Kilborn’s style and format to do his own thing.
Of course, we had no idea what this show would become and Stewart was awkward as hell in the beginning, but that’s what always made it seem so honest. With that first episode, I became an even bigger fan of Jon Stewart the guy who wasn’t used to wearing a suit. – Burnsy
WITH A KNIFE AND FORK?!
Jon Stewart provided a blisteringly human voice on any number of serious topics during his reign, and the more sacred the topic, the more right-minded and authoritative he became. Which explains why he was at his absolute best when discussing pizza. His takedown of Chicago-style “pizza” above is probably the most cherished of his pizza-related freakouts, but let’s not forget the time he trounced Mayor de Blasio for eating his pizza with a fork and knife. Or, even most satisfying, the time he took Donald Trump to task for steering Sarah Palin into a disaster of a New York pizza dining experience. – Ryan Perry
Jon Stewart will remain a lasting an influential figure long after Trevor Noah takes over The Daily Show because Stewart was never confined to “lol Fox News.”
The perfect example of this is his skewering of the Obama administration for the steaming pile of sh*t that was the original healthcare.gov rollout. After all their struggling to get Obamacare enacted, all they had to do was build a functioning website. They failed. Miserably. And instead of giving them a pass, Stewart used Smurf sex, Jay Z lyrics and The Simpsons to make fun of everyone involved. Jon Stewart: equal-opportunity troll. – Mike Bertha
The Go F*ck Yourself Choir
The appearance of the “Go F*ck Yourself” choir is one of my all-time favorite moments on The Daily Show. Back in 2010, Jon Stewart called out Fox News’ hypocrisy (again), and told the network to collectively go f*ck themselves. Of course, Fox News couldn’t let it go, and Bernie Goldberg went on The O’Reilly Factor to rage against Stewart as a comedian and a social commentator, comparing him to Jay Leno with the “f-bomb.” Jon Stewart’s response is hilarious, and it practically serves as a thesis statement for his tenure on The Daily Show. “To say that comedians have to decide whether they’re comedians or social commentators, uh, comedians do social commentary through comedy. That’s how it’s worked for thousands of years. I have not moved out of the comedian’s box into the news box. The news box is moving towards me.” – Rachel Kolb
The Daily Show with Glenn Beck
On March 18, 2010, Jon Stewart delivered a different sort of Daily Show as he devoted about half of the episode to a brilliant parody of former Fox News host Glenn Beck. For two years, Beck hosted a conservative program for the network — named after himself, obviously — which steadily brought in quite the staggering amount of viewers. Stewart’s own disdain for the man’s off-kilter perspective and message steadily grew over time until it blossomed into this magnificently beautiful performance. I must say that Jon Stewart does such a great job here that — brace yourselves, people — I actually kinda miss Glenn Beck now. – Aaron Pruner
Stewart vs. Seth Rollins
One of my favorite things in the world — aside from donkey basketball and those tacos made out of Doritos — is when two pop culture institutions that should have nothing to do with each other collide. Like when the Harlem Globetrotters came to Gilligan’s Island. This past February, the now-WWE World Heavyweight Champion Seth Rollins arrived onto the set of The Daily Show like an RKO (you know — out of nowhere!!) and invited Stewart to an episode of WWE’s Raw.
It’s no secret that Stewart is a big pro wrestling fan, and the Raw segment Stewart appeared on was absolutely brilliant. It’s not as groundbreaking as any of the other segments in this collection, but it was a nice diversion from the usual doom and gloom and Donald Trump-ness of the real world. – Kevin Sullivan
Stewart and The Daily Show took on all the news networks that were trying to tune out the racial elements of the Michael Brown Ferguson case. As usual, a comedy show had to point the moral compass in the right direction.
Stewart summarized things perfectly at the end: “I guarantee you that every person of color in this country has faced an indignity from the ridiculous to the grotesque to the sometimes fatal at some point in their … I’m going to say last couple of hours. Because of their skin color … This sh*t happens all the time, all of it. Race is there and it is a constant. You’re tired of hearing about it? Imagine how f*cking exhausting it is living it.”
Stewart vs. Brian Kilmeade
When Brian Kilmeade of Fox & Friends fame took a moment to use dead police officers as an in to knock Jon Stewart, the host had enough. Stewart was under some fire for a factual error during a report on police violence against unarmed black men. This was also during the time of the Michael Brown incident, so emotions were already pretty high, but Kilmeade’s comments seemed to send Stewart to a rare zone where no f*cks are given unless they’re directed at a well defined jackass:
“F*ck you, Brian. Seriously, f*ck you. In fact, if I hadn’t told you to f*ck off, I would have had to apologize on tomorrow night’s show for being factually incorrect.”
Considering Stewart’s reaction, it’s safe to say that Kilmeade crossed the line. That, and Stewart actually says that. No matter, I love this because it’s honest and it’s a fine, sharp use of the curse word. Carries some weight.
Jon Stewart’s First Words After 9/11
It was just two years after he took over hosting duties when the tragedy on Sept. 11, 2001 occurred, and when The Daily Show finally returned a week and a half later a shell-shocked Jon Stewart was still just trying to make sense of it all like the rest of us were. In his opening segment he spoke from the heart, barely able to keep his emotions under control. Recalling the death of Martin Luther King Jr., he explains that while he grieves for what happened, he doesn’t despair because the brave men and women who jumped in to help and rebuild prove that we’ve already won. Nearly 14 years later it’s still impossible to watch with a dry eye. It’s Stewart’s compassion and heart that transcends him from being more than just a comedian or host, but a truly great man.