Last summer, we got a glimpse of what The Daily Show looks like without Jon Stewart when he went off to direct Rosewater and John Oliver filled in for him. Oliver was so good that HBO came calling, and now he has his own well-respected and popular late night show to focus on with Last Week Tonight.
I truly mean no disrespect to Chris Hardwick or Larry Wilmore, but without Oliver and with Stephen Colbert leaving for David Letterman’s chair in what seems like a few hours, Stewart is about to become Comedy Central’s lone remaining proven late night pillar. The question is: how much longer can Stewart be expected to stand still?
While he hasn’t let on if he knows a specific date for his someday departure, in a new interview with Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air, Stewart definitely seems like a man who has spent a lot of time thinking about his future and watching Seinfeld re-runs.
After Gross admitted that she personally would hate to see him leave his Comedy Central chair, Stewart thanked her and said he acknowledges that there will never be anything that he is “as well suited for” as hosting The Daily Show. “That being said, I think there are moments when you realize that that’s not enough anymore, or maybe it’s time for some discomfort,” he said.
Stewart added that he is just as proud of some of the work the show has put out recently as anything they have done in the program’s history. “The minute I say I’m not going to do it anymore, I will miss it like crazy and I will consider that to be a terrible mistake I just made and I will want to grab it back,” he said.
Then, acknowledging the cliché nature of what he was about to say, Stewart brought it back to Seinfeld. As he explained, George Constanza broke up with Susan, and then decided he was going to ask her to marry him. “And he was all excited and he did it and she took him back,” he said. “And there’s that scene of him walking up the stairs with her to the apartment and the minute he starts walking up the stairs he goes, ‘What have I done?’”
“That’s what you’re trying to balance,” he said of his current position. (via Mediaite)
If you’re a fan of The Daily Show, you may be disappointed to hear those words, but you have to respect them.
If Stewart’s soul aches for another challenge, then he should chase after that. But should Comedy Central chase after Stewart’s ghost when the time comes to replace him for good?
I remember what The Daily Show looked like in the time of Craig “Craigers” Kilborn, before Jon Stewart came along and turned it into something that I don’t think any of us saw coming from the guy who had hosted MTV Spring Break: Lake Havasu four years prior. Back then, the show was more smug and less aggressive. It had a point of view but it didn’t feel the same weight of responsibility that Stewart has attached to it. I can’t blame the early Daily Show for that, though. While it sounds cliché to say it, those really were very different times.
Jon Stewart is probably right for these complex times and though he sometimes comes off like a cross between a comedian and a pissed-off populist at a town hall meeting more often than not, he probably should be considered one of the greats of late night comedy. Unlike Carson and Letterman (and despite Oliver’s stint), though, it won’t be easy to simply pass the baton to the next host because the baton has become an extension of Stewart’s hand.
I don’t know if Comedy Central will ignore that challenge and tap a new host or if they will try something completely different. And to be honest, I’m not eager to find out.