Columns

Mitra ’18: Why I still miss Jon Stewart

By
Opinions Columnist
Thursday, October 22, 2015

Like many members of my generation, I learned to love modern political satire by watching “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.” I discovered “The Daily Show” very late — I was a senior in high school when I finally started watching Stewart’s monologues on a regular basis. But I quickly became hooked on his easy humor, hilarious range of expressions and, I’ll admit, scathing attacks on Fox News. I raced through his videos like an addict; within months, I had caught up on almost a decade’s worth of speeches and interviews.

I was looking forward to watching the chaos of the 2016 elections unfold through the lens of “The Daily Show” when Stewart announced his retirement in February. Needless to say, I was devastated — as was a large section of the global population. Hours after Stewart’s announcement, Bill Clinton tweeted, “Where will I get my news each night?” He took the words right out of my mouth.

In retrospect, it’s embarrassing to admit that I relied on “The Daily Show” for news about national politics. Stewart never claimed to be unbiased, and I was well aware that his perspective was anything but objective. But he achieved something that no other comedian or cultural commentator had managed at the time: He made politics accessible and engaging for millennials. His monologues were compelling and provocative. Above all, they forced viewers to discuss and reflect on current events.

I can safely say I learned a lot about American politics from watching Stewart. And I’m not alone. A 2014 Pew Research Center Poll found that 12 percent of Americans watched “The Daily Show” for political news. Another study, conducted in 2012, suggests that viewers of “The Daily Show” are among the best-informed in the country. Among Stewart’s regular viewers are Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., David Axelrod, Mindy Kaling and J.K. Rowling, so I’m in great company.

Of course, Stewart is not without critics. Like all satirists, he was a polarizing figure who was as notorious as he was appreciated. He has been accused of misinforming the public and propagating a skewed, partisan perspective on American politics. Critics have pointed out that Stewart has disproportionately targeted conservatives due to his own political leanings, and that may well be true.

Nevertheless, Stewart was an insightful host who amassed a cult following. He was a critical watchdog for the media, bringing to light the gaffes and posturing of news channels and politicians (I’m looking at you, Donald Trump!). For that alone, he will be sorely missed.

Stewart has left an indelible mark on pop culture and society, revolutionizing the way in which we absorb news and view politics. So it’s safe to say that his successor has enormous shoes to fill. Trevor Noah now faces the daunting task of replacing Stewart and taking “The Daily Show” to new heights — and his critics have already begun to pounce.

It’s still too early to judge Noah’s tenure as host of the show that helped define a generation. We need to give him a few months to adjust to his responsibilities and acclimate to a new culture. But his first fortnight as a host has been curious, to say the least. While some of Noah’s jokes were reminiscent of “The Daily Show” at its best, many others were in poor taste. Still, viewers need to give Noah time to explore his own set of key issues and find his comedic voice.

In handing the reigns of its flagship show to an untested comedian, Comedy Central took a risky gamble. The South African Noah brings with him a diverse perspective that can truly benefit the show. He seems too mired in Stewart’s legacy, however, to craft his own voice or play to his strengths.

Noah’s best jokes came during segments about Africa and criminal justice reform. It’s obvious that these are topics that speak to him on a personal level. The real test is to see if he can inject his own brand of humor into the structure of the long-running “Daily Show.” If he succeeds, he could accomplish what Stewart did 16 years ago. He has the chance to transform the industry and offer a different outlook. And if he fails, at least he risked it all to chase after his own legacy. But if his only goal is to follow in Stewart’s footsteps, he’ll always be second best.

In the coming months, “The Daily Show” might acquire a more youthful voice and evolve into the archetypal show of the next generation. Or it could lose its edge and become a loose cannon. Either way, it’s safe to say the era of Jon Stewart has come to an end. Welcome to a whole new world.

Mili Mitra ’18 is still suffering from Jon Stewart withdrawal symptoms. She can be reached at mili_mitra@brown.edu.

  • ugh

    When the BDH is not racist it’s just boring

  • Man with Axe

    I give you credit for understanding that Stewart was biased. But the real problem with Stewart wasn’t his bias, which was extreme. It was his moral cowardice. He would say all kinds of things that were mean spirited and false to attack those he didn’t like, and then protest, “I’m just a comedian.” But then he would pretend to be serious when that suited his purposes. For the most part, he was able to hide his own shallow understanding of issues in snark, which is all that most of his audience wanted from him.

    For young people such as this author he did a real disservice to lead them to believe that so much of Stewart’s half-truths and biased reports were the whole truth about serious political issues.