It’s been a hard week to watch Comedy Central. Ever since Jon Stewart dropped the bomb a few months ago that he was leaving, I’ve tried to picture my life without my almost primary informant on news. Not just political events but movies, TV, books, pop culture, and even International news that I’ve often neglected. It isn’t that I haven’t been interested in current events, it’s just with so many outlets out there making so much noise that often didn’t make sense to me, I needed desperately someone to not only explain issues to me, but to do it in a way that exuded just the simple principle of common sense. The comedy was a bonus and let’s face it, Jon Stewart is damned funny.
So as I look back at this 16 year journey, one that started when my eldest child was just a mere infant, I will remember ten things that will carry me for the rest of my days. Someday I hope to share such wisdom with my grandchildren, and use YouTube and Hulu to teach them the wisdom that is Stewart. For now though, I’m clinging to these valuable lessons.
1. Election coverage can be fun and informative
We all know what happens during every election cycle. The airwaves are loaded with political ads, many often negative, and I did what every good American would do. I started recording all my programs on the DVR and fast forwarding through all the political ads. I do admit that while this kind of ignorance was pure bliss, it also didn’t get me very prepared when it came time to going to the voting booth. If it wasn’t for Jon Stewart pointing out the sheer absurdity of the political posturing and getting to the core of the issues, I would have looked rather foolish just randomly pushing buttons at the polling station and throwing my votes to some bastard that probably wanted to rob me of my civil rights. It certainly spared me having to actually watch those primary debates and the numerous “heated” discussions on CNN and Fox News that aired opposite of something actually worthwhile on television.
It wasn’t just the ads though. Come election night coverage, did I have CNN or NBC on? Heavens no, I was firmly tuned to Comedy Central. That’s certainly something my parents can’t say, and I hope that’s something that will carry on for my kids. It makes the whole thing that much more palpable.
2. There is hope for the political process despite the cynicism
For a lot of Americans like me, we have soured on the political process. The concept of 24 hour news had ruined the objective broadcasts of the Walter Cronkite’s and Peter Jennings’ of the world that once ruled. Political talk shows on both TV and radio have polarized even more a country that was already divided to the point where tolerance for opposing views has shrunk to the size of an ant. Debates about serious issues have devolved to right vs. wrong as opposed to left vs. right.
Seeing the success of The Daily Show has proven to me that a lot of Americans get it. There’s a lot of people out there like me, knowing that there is sanity out in the wilderness. Jon Stewart may be our champion, but he’s taught us that’s it’s okay to feel this way. We are okay. There are people out there that think as we do, that there are two sides to every debate. Issues should be carefully weighed and not have a clear answer with an extremist view. I’m clinging to that belief for life. Its like fighting the dark side of the force. There is good out there among the evil.
3. It’s okay to call The President of The United States, “Dude”
I know Stewart took heat from that due to the stuffy White House protocol, but hey, we average Americans get it. The guy is human and it’s okay to be an American in front of such an important leader. We like beer, hot dogs, baseball and NASCAR. Why not be casual with the leader of the free world?
4. Express your ideas and others will follow
I speak of this mostly in terms of the brilliant correspondents that have been on this show since 1999. They followed this guy’s lead, they brought their own ideas, and in many ways they were as significant as what Stewart himself had to say. Thanks to opening up the floor like this to others, there are legacies out there that continue in the spirit of that humble Daily Show beginning. John Oliver carries on in the same vein on Last Week Tonight (as he is EQUALLY as brilliant). Stephen Colbert is the new David Letterman and has a chance to really cement a legacy. Samantha Bee is getting show on TBS and others will take what they have learned to other mediums and carry on the message. That’s how you make an impact in this world. One person at a time. It spreads like wildfire.
5. We can handle the truth
Washington DC is all about spin. It’s hard to read in between the lines of rhetoric and see what’s truly going on, but it can be done. Jon Stewart may have been our interpreter, but he was our teacher too. After a while it all began to sink in. Now I can tell a fuzzy line from the actual truth and you know what, turns out I can handle the truth. I actually crave it now. With every piece of good or bad news there’s a “but…”
Bill Clinton, despite his scandals, ended up being the most honest President I’ve seen in my lifetime because he analyzes all sides. He embraced the message of the comedy pundit seeking answers because it was often the way he saw things, the first president ever to do so. It gave legitimacy to the this medium of political coverage on a comedy network because it ended up being the most honest. Honesty in politics, go figure.
6. Life is a lot more than politics
No other TV show out there has done more interviews with book authors. They were given a huge amount of time during the years in a time when late night has been all about who could book the bigger celebrity. Turns out that authors brought a message that made you think, laugh, cry, and be grateful for the things that we have in our own lives. There are many stories to be told out there from all walks of life, political and otherwise, and having authors brought a rich element of humanity to this comedy show as well. We all were better for it, and it does make me think every time I walk into a Barnes and Noble now.
There were also numerous entertainment guests too, showing us that behind all the commentary, we are still immersed in this world where pop culture is king. Stewart knew how to have fun with every one of them and we felt honored to be part of their little party.
7. We grow from our triumphs and tragedies
I remember 9/11 very well. I was pregnant with my youngest child and I sat there in front of the TV news for a week wondering what kind of world I was bringing my son into. After a week of licking our wounds, the late night jokesters all went back to work, each with their sobering message of how none of this made any sense. Jon Stewart, who was right there for it all, managed to give a perspective that none of the others did, when there is dark there is light. It so well matched the inspiring stories we heard that week of the First Responders and those committed to helping those that suffered devastating tragedies. It’s something I still cling onto every day.
And the reason I don’t despair is because this attack happened. It’s not a dream. But the aftermath of it, the recovery is a dream realized. And that is Martin Luther King’s dream. Whatever barriers we’ve put up are gone even if it’s momentary. And we’re judging people by not the color of their skin but the content of their character. And you know, all this talk about “These guys are criminal masterminds. They’ve – they’ve gotten together and their extraordinary guile…and their wit and their skill.” It’s a lie. Any fool can blow something up. Any fool can destroy. But to see these guys, these firefighters, these policemen and people from all over the country, literally, with buckets rebuilding. That, that – that is – that’s extraordinary. That’s why we’ve already won. It’s light. It’s democracy. We’ve already won. They can’t shut that down. They live in chaos and chaos…it can’t sustain itself. It never could. It’s too easy and it’s too unsatisfying.
The view from my apartment was the World Trade Center and now it’s gone. They attacked it. This symbol of American ingenuity and strength and labor and imagination and commerce and it is gone. But you know what the view is now? The Statue of Liberty. The view from the south of Manhattan is now the Statue of Liberty. You can’t beat that.
8. Its better to laugh at the madness of this world rather than cry or end it all
I don’t think I’m making the observation of the century when I say laughter is effective. It makes us happy. It’s probably no accident then that a comedy network has left such a huge impact on TV news, especially in this day of social media and pop culture ruling our lives. If we can’t laugh at ourselves, then what’s the point? The Daily Show knew where to draw the line between unspeakable and horrific tragedy and attacking blatant hypocrisy, but when Stewart and company hit a controversial issue, there was no better approach than hard hitting yet biting satire and some groan-able (but totally hysterical) puns. Stewart was fearless and wasn’t afraid to offend, but he also laid out the issues in a way that got me thinking. The intelligence of the material struck my analytical nature and gave me credit for having a brain, but when combined with sexual innuendos and running gags (NAMBLA is still my favorite), how could that not make politics fun?
For me personally, I survived 8 years of that atrocity known as Bush presidency thanks solely to Jon Stewart. Those were some very painful years in which I truly believe our country had gone mad. Its full fledged proof, I’d rather take laughter to blowing my brains out any day!
9. Revolution is a very slow process
Let’s face it, after 16 years of working his ass off, having to endure endless hours of blowhards, ill tolerance and extreme conservatism so that we didn’t have to, coming up with endless clever segment names and trying to end it all in Moments of Zen when the skewering segment paint was still wet, it’s believable to think from Stewart’s perspective that all battles were not won and perhaps it didn’t amount to anything. After all, beyond the satire, the problems are still there.
The legacy will be lasting. Change comes through ideas, not actions. What Stewart has given us is an influence that will leave a long lasting impression. Younger people have now seen what a voice of reason means, and it’s a sanity and clarity that they will come to expect in everything. It will affect a political landscape of the future. The preservation of free thinking is something that takes a generation or two to stick. That’s no simple or forgotten task. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and Fox News won’t last forever (yes, I’m still clinging to that hope).
10. Life is Short
All in all, this day has come because one man realized that despite being a voice of reason for millions, he also has higher priorities in life; his family. All the success, the limelight, the money, it means nothing if you can’t be there to watch your kids grow. He had a chance to step away and he did. It’s a lesson we all should take to heart, especially in this day of 24 hour access to work through smartphones. Family is important and should always come first.
I can’t believe that August 6th is here. There will be a definite gaping void in my life at 11:30 ish tomorrow evening, but I’ll be left with some very valuable lessons too. Lessons that I often took for granted until I had to face that it’s time to apply them to my every day life. I’ve been watching The Daily Show even before Jon Stewart took his spot behind the desk, and I’ll be giving the new guy Trevor Noah a chance too. But Noah won’t be a replacement, he’ll be the next generation with a chance to create something memorable.
Farewell Jon Stewart and thank you. I’ve never had a better teacher.