Cenac, who served as a correspondent and was the only black writer during the period leading up to the 2012 election, admitted that he didn't get along with the late-night host throughout his four-year tenure and recalled one particular confrontation in which Stewart blew up at him in front of the entire "Daily Show" staff.
While covering the 2012 presidential race, Stewart did an impression of Republican candidate Herman Cain that Cenac found offensive.
"I don't think this [impression] is from a malicious place, but I think this is from a sort of naïve, kind of ignorant place," he remembered thinking. "It's like, 'Oh no, you just did this and you weren't thinking about it. It was just the voice that came into your head.' And so it bugged me."
Since Stewart had received heat from Fox News for doing a racially insensitive voice impression on-air, the host had planned to poke fun at the issue in another segment centered around the theme of "everything I do is racist," until Cenac stepped in and told Stewart the entire bit frankly made him uncomfortable.
"I've got to be honest, when I heard it, it bothered me." Cenac, who had watched Stewart's news segment on Cain from his hotel room, remembered telling the "Daily Show" staff in an email. "I was the one black writer there. It was this thing where it's like, when you're the one — whether you want to or not — you're speaking for everybody. I felt like I had to speak for all the minorities, because there's nobody speaking for them."
Cenac recalled voicing his reservations again at a writers meeting, which then got Stewart riled up. "I raised a concern, like, 'Are you sure you want to do this?' ... He got incredibly defensive. I remember he was like, 'What are you trying to say? There's a tone in your voice.' I was like, 'There's no tone. It bothered me.' ... And then he got upset. He stood up and he was just like, 'F— off. I'm done with you.' And he just started screaming that to me, and he screamed it a few times. ... 'F— off! I'm done with you.' And he stormed out. I didn't know if I had been fired."
The former "Daily Show" writer admitted that he had an emotional breakdown following their argument. "I was shaking, and I just sat there by myself on the bleachers and f—ing cried. And it's a sad thing," he said. "That's how I feel. That's how I feel in this job: I feel alone."
Cenac added, "I represent my community. I represent my people, and I try to represent them the best that I can. I gotta be honest if something seems questionable, because if not, then I don't want to be in a position where I am being untrue not just to myself but to my culture, because that's exploitative."
Listen to the full "WTF" podcast here.
Stewart's final episode of the Daily Show will take place on Aug. 6.