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Jon Stewart may have signed off from The Daily Show after more than 16 years hosting the Comedy Central late-night show, but he urged viewers to carry on his tradition of sniffing out various forms of “bullshit” in politics.
That speech was just one of the highlights of Stewart’s star-packed finale, which featured nearly all of the show’s former correspondents — many of whom have gone on to have successful careers of their own — returning to pay tribute to their former boss. The supersized episode also featured cameos from Hillary Clinton and Bill O’Reilly and a performance-turned-dance party from Stewart’s beloved Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.
Thursday night’s Daily Show began like any other episode, with Jon Stewart, wearing a suit and blue tie, scribbling on a stack of blue papers at his desk. Then Stewart, who taped his last show a couple of hours before the first Republican presidential debate, attempted to cover the event, which viewers at home would have already seen by the time the show airs.
“It was incredible. So articulate,” Stewart tried to describe the debate. And he said that even though it was his last show — a remark that prompted a groan from his audience, leading him to add, “but yet we all still remain alive” — he felt a responsibility to cover the debate as they normally would. So he threw to the show’s three correspondents — Jessica Williams, Hasan Minhaj and Jordan Klepper — in Cleveland. Yet as they realized there were more Republican candidates than they had correspondents, more and more of the Daily Show‘s illustrious alums emerged — either in Cleveland or in studio to help out.
One by one, the following appeared either in person or by video: Aasif Mandvi, Al Madrigal, John Hodgman, Lewis Black, Kristen Schaal, Samantha Bee, Steve Carell, Nancy Walls, Vance DeGeneres, Mo Rocca, Dave Attell, Matt Walsh, Dan Bakkedahl, Larry Wilmore, Josh Gad, Jason Jones (by video from Georgia where he’s filming his new TBS show The Detour, which he took a few seconds to promote), Rob Corddry, Nate Corddry, Michael Che, Trevor Noah (who walked out and began measuring his desk before Stewart asked for another 20 minutes), Craig Kilborn, Olivia Munn, Rob Riggle, Ed Helms, Wyatt Cenac, John Oliver and, finally, Stephen Colbert.
Carell joked that he actually never left the show, explaining that “becoming an international superstar is just something I did while waiting for my next assignment.” That led to Stewart bringing back older Daily Show alums like DeGeneres and Rocca.
There was also a video appearance from the Jon Stewart of Egypt, Bassem Yousef, who popped out from under a sheet, acting like Stewart was being pulled off the air. “I knew they’d get you. Who shut the show down? The White House? Secret police? Thanks, Obama.” No, Stewart said. He was leaving because he wants to. “What a pussy,” Yousef replied. Yousef’s show came to an end in 2014 because of pressure on the channel airing it and the emergence of a climate no longer accepting of satire. Kilborn, whom Stewart replaced as Daily Show host in 1999, also joked about Stewart getting taken off the air, saying he was “finally getting canceled. I knew you were going to run this thing into the ground.”
There was also the rumored segment in which favorite targets of the show got to fire back at Stewart. While Donald Trump was absent despite him saying that the show was “begging him” to be on Stewart’s final episode, the Daily Show team did get in a final dig at the distinctively coiffed Republican presidential candidate. During their debate coverage, Klepper said, “I can’t believe Trump took out his penis so late in the debate.”
Targets who did reply to Stewart’s request to appear included Arby’s CEO Paul Brown, who finally gave the host a taste of his own medicine after Stewart spent years mocking the fast-food chain: “Jon Stewart, it’s like your TV threw up on your face.” Others who fired back: Chris Christie, Charlie Rangel, Chuck Schumer, Hillary Clinton (who sarcastically lamented Stewart signing off as she ran for president), Rahm Emanuel, John Kerry, Bill O’Reilly (“Have fun feeding your rabbits, quitter”), John McCain and Wolf Blitzer.
Colbert received the loudest applause of any of Stewart’s returning correspondents, with the audience chanting “Ste-phen! Ste-phen!” just as they would before an episode of The Colbert Report. But even though Colbert flew off into eternity on Santa’s sleigh during the finale of his show, as he promised, he’d meet viewers again, and he brought back his conservative character for Stewart’s farewell.
Colbert honored Stewart’s role in the media and political discourse by comparing him to Frodo from Lord of the Rings. In his allegory, the ring is a metaphor for the power to be a player in the world of media and Washington politics. “I don’t really want that,” Stewart said, echoing his many self-deprecating remarks over his career about his show and his own influence. But, Colbert added, Frodo didn’t want that either.
Colbert also had a surprise even Stewart didn’t know about, and the host squirmed in his chair and tried to wheel it away to escape the sincere thank-you speech Colbert gave him.
“It will be quick if you just hold still,” Colbert said. “You said to me and many other people here never to thank you because we owe you nothing. It is one of the few times I’ve known you to be dead wrong. … We owe you because we learned from you by example how to do a show with intention, how to work with clarity, how to treat people with respect. You were infuriatingly good at your job. All of us … are better at our jobs because we got to watch you do yours. And we are better people for having known you. … On behalf of so many people whose lives you’ve changed over the past 16 years, thank you.”
Colbert then threw to commercial as he and Stewart moved in for a hug. All of the other correspondents also joined them for a big group hug, jumping up and down in a large scrum. One of those correspondents was Wyatt Cenac, who gave Stewart a big hug during the commercial break, after poking fun at their reported dispute when Cenac worked on the show by appearing via video from “across the street” and saying he was “thinking about” coming over. “My social media’s blowing up,” Cenac added.
In the second act, Stewart introduced the audience to the Daily Show staffers, taking an on-camera walk through the office (complete with a Martin Scorsese cameo) as he rattled off the names of people working in accounting, graphics, the control room and other divisions that help produce the Comedy Central late-night program. Stewart has said repeatedly that what he’ll miss most about hosting The Daily Show is no longer being able to see those people, many of whom will continue to work for the show when Noah takes over. And Thursday night was no exception.
“This is the most beautiful place I’ve ever been,” he said.
In the third act of his final Daily Show, Stewart analyzed the various forms of “bullshit” one encounters in life, including plenty of examples from politics, and urged people to be on the lookout for its many incarnations.
“Bullshit is everywhere. There is very little that you will encounter in life that has not in some way been infused with bullshit,” he began his remarks, before going into specific examples, like the Patriot Act, “banks bet[ting] your pension money” and failure to act on climate change.
“Whenever something’s been titled ‘freedom,’ ‘family,’ ‘fairness,’ ‘health,’ ‘America,’ take a good long sniff. Chances are it’s been manufactured in a facility that may contain traces of bullshit,” Stewart said. “The best defense against bullshit is vigilance. If you smell something, say something.”
He then thanked Comedy Central for giving him the opportunity to host the show, the people who worked there for giving him “the talent and inspiration to develop it,” the audience, and his wife, Tracey, and their two kids, Maggie and Nate, whom Stewart indicated were all in the audience, but he said he wasn’t going to look at them.
He thanked them, “For teaching me what joy looks like.”
And then in keeping with the humble attitude about his departure he’s regularly displayed over the past six months — insisting he’s not “retiring” nor is he dying — Stewart invoked a quote from an artist he admires about his career being like a long conversation with his audience.
“I really like that metaphor, for many reasons, but mainly because it takes away the idea of finality. This is just a conversation. This show isn’t ending. We’re merely taking a small pause,” he said. “Nothing ends. It’s just a continuation; it’s a pause in the conversation. So rather than saying, ‘Goodbye’ or ‘Goodnight.’ I’m just gonna say, ‘I’m gonna get a drink. I’m sure I’ll see you guys before I leave.’ “
The show concluded with what Stewart called his own “moment of zen,” a performance from Springsteen. After performing “Land of Hope and Dreams,” which Stewart requested, the band launched into “Born to Run,” at the beginning of which, Stewart’s head could be seen bouncing in front of the camera as he danced around. It wasn’t long before his colleagues joined him onstage for an epic dance party.
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