Jon Stewart said goodbye to The Daily Show on Thursday, as America’s foremost satirist of politicians and the media was ushered out with a reunion of the many colleagues that he worked with during 16 years as host.
He began by pretending to report on Thursday’s Republican presidential debate — which actually happened after the taping — but said he didn’t have enough remaining correspondents to talk about all the candidates. There followed a long succession of personalities, like Aasif Mandvi, John Hodgman, Steve Carell and more, who had gotten their starts at Comedy Central.
All joking aside, Stewart got serious when he encouraged viewers to stay “vigilant” against political spin.
“So if you smell something, say something,” he said.
Stewart, 52, announced last winter that he was getting restless and it was time to move on. Trevor Noah replaces him as host next month. Noah made a brief appearance on the show — in a gag, he began measuring Stewart’s desk while Stewart was still in his chair.
Political heavyweights — many of whom have been skewered by Stewart for years — also said their goodbyes to the host. In video messages, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, John McCain, Rahm Emanuel and others poked fun at the host, saying they wouldn’t be missing him.
Former correspondent Stephen Colbert compared his relationship with Stewart to that of Sam and Frodo from The Lord of the Rings, before getting sincere and saying that he and everyone who had worked on the show were better people for having known Stewart.
Also among the former correspondents who showed up for the final show was Wyatt Cenac. He had said he wasn’t sure he would attend after revealing on comedian Marc Maron’s podcast last month that he had a falling out with Stewart when he left the show. Cenac and Stewart played up the drama for comedic effect with an awkward conversation via video link.
Armed with a razor-sharp wit and research team adept at finding video evidence of hypocrisy or unintentional comedy among the nation’s establishment, Stewart turned a sleepy basic-cable entertainment show into a powerful cultural platform. Those who scored a ticket to the 6 p.m. taping were sworn to secrecy.
“From start to finish, it was fantastic,” said audience member Randy Gunnell, 29, of Westchester, N.Y.. “It was emotional, people crying all over the place.”
The ending was an unusual one, said Michelle Light, who also was in the audience.
“It was definitely not a regular show. It was not at all the show where you are going to see all the headline news and he’s doing his normal shtick,” said Light, of New York. “They sort of hinted and gave you a nibble … and then it was on to everything else to sort of commemorate this last moment.”
Stewart had spent years skewering the nation’s establishment, but had turned the spotlight on himself during his penultimate show Wednesday, noting how institutions he had supposedly eviscerated were stronger than ever.
Fellow comic Louis C.K., his guest Wednesday, noted that Stewart was able to keep his show fresh and funny for a long time, keeping up with the world’s changes. “It really is one of the great comedy accomplishments of all time,” he said.
A line of people hoping to get in to the taping gathered outside of the Comedy Central studio on Manhattan’s far West Side. First in line was Chad Lance, a 27-year-old musician from Philadelphia who said he arrived at 2:30 a.m., who said he couldn’t wait to see what happened.
Twenty-one-year-old Jessica Vitovitch was anxiously waiting to see if she’d get a seat.
“I think Stewart has contributed so much to the political consciousness, especially … my generation,” she said. “For this to be his finale, it’s a huge cultural moment.”
It’s the third major farewell for a late-night television personality in eight months. Stewart’s Comedy Central colleague, Colbert, ended “The Colbert Report” in December. David Letterman signed off from CBS in May, to be replaced this fall by Colbert.
Comedy Central put out the word that Stewart’s final show will run longer than the typical half hour, so people recording it on their DVRs won’t be unpleasantly surprised.
With thousands of words in tributes being written on his behalf the past few weeks, Stewart hasn’t granted exit interviews. He showed up for a podcast done by his show’s executive producers, spending most of the half hour talking about the menus for catered meals at the office — including a lengthy discussion of whether egg sandwiches were better on English muffins or Kaiser rolls.