John Sutter: Jon Stewart is the voice of millennials as well as baby boomers
He will be missed as he departs from his post at "The Daily Show"
But hopefully this will usher in a more-diverse era of American satire, Sutter says
Editor’s Note: John D. Sutter is a columnist for CNN Opinion and creator of CNN’s Change the List project. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. Email him at email@example.com. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
Quick: Guess how old Jon Stewart is?
I’ll give you two hints:
- Younger than George W. Bush.
- Older than Justin Bieber.
Forty-ish, you say? Forty-five, maybe?
And isn’t it incredible that someone that age – or, anyone of any age, really – could become the countercultural voice of multiple generations, from the millennials to the boomers.
Stewart announced on Tuesday his departure as host of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show.” Incredibly, he’d recently started his 17th year on the show. In his signature Gen X-adjacent style, he joked that that was the longest he’d held any single job – “by 16 years and five months.”
It’s not like Stewart’s dead. Or even gone from the show yet. That may not happen until later much later this year, he said. I feel no need to eulogize him. But the thought of nightly cable TV without him is a bit stunning – for me, age 32, and for people of all ages, really, who get frustrated with the stilted earnestness of old-timey news programs, and who, likewise, are turned off by televised shouting matches and hype.
He’s a transcendent figure, in that sense.
Someone who makes sense to the Snapchat set.
And someone my dad might talk about over a round of golf.
He’ll be missed by everyone but the 2016 Republican candidates.
On Wednesday morning, I asked my Facebook friends and followers what he meant to them. Several, including a former classmate, said he helped them process the 9/11 terrorist attack. “(W)hen I was a terrified college freshman on 9/11, Jon Stewart’s was the voice that made sense,” wrote Chelsea Samuel.
A Facebook user identified as Daniel Thomas Bailey posted a photo of Stewart visiting his base in Afghanistan a decade later, in 2011.
“His news is honest. He’s honest,” wrote a woman identified as Samina Hope. “Which is so incredibly rare in this world now. He has a genuine heart for humanity. His broadcast of a little girl with autism who he afforded the opportunity to sing with Katy Perry, will forever bring tears to my eyes.”
The satirical form Stewart pioneered will, of course, live on. It may well survive in Stewart’s own work. In his farewell, Stewart said he was going to spend time eating meals with his family – “who,” he said, “I have heard from multiple sources, are lovely people.”
He also left open the idea that he could work again.
“I don’t have any specific plans,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of ideas.”
But the form surely lives on in his impressive cast of alums.
John Oliver’s HBO show “Last Week Tonight” is among the finest, smartest (and awesomely angriest) pieces of social criticism that exists today.
Just watch him skewer the Miss America pageant.
This is sharp investigative journalism, made funny and relevant.
Stephen Colbert, meanwhile, is about to get a higher profile on the “Late Show,” and we can only hope that he makes that program a little edgier and more interesting than it was under the sleepy-eyed watch of David Letterman.
Plus, there’s always an upside to change.
I hope that Stewart’s departure from “The Daily Show” may usher in a new era – in which the viewpoints of a younger generation are represented not just by old-ish white men but by actual younger people. Hopefully, too, the post-Stewart era will include more women, more racial minorities and more LGBT people.
This country laughs with Stewart, Oliver and Colbert.
We love them. But they don’t really represent all of us.
Those critiques will have their day, surely.
Today, however, I think it’s important to celebrate the political satire that Stewart ushered in. We’ve all gotten a good laugh out of it.
And, importantly, our democracy is better for it.
Stewart, after all, wasn’t just in it for the jokes. He asked tough questions of politicians. Found ways to make uninterested people care about politics.
And he did it with a zany, effortless wit.
Instead of a “moment of zen,” the odd-ball segment that usually concludes “The Daily Show,” I’ll leave you instead with this clip of Stewart’s farewell to his live audience.
When you hear the crowd moan, that’s because they realize, too, that he was the voice of so many generations.
And, thankfully, his was a voice that didn’t take itself too seriously.