Did anybody see this coming? I don’t mean eventually, but right at this moment. Jon Stewart went before his studio audience last night and, essentially out of nowhere, announced that he would be retiring later this year.
Jon Stewart, the host of Comedy Central’s ‘The Daily Show,’ will step down later this year, the president of the network confirmed in a statement to the On Media blog on Tuesday.
“For the better part of the last two decades, I have had the incredible honor and privilege of working with Jon Stewart. His comedic brilliance is second to none,” Michele Ganeless, President of Comedy Central, said in a statement.
“Jon has been at the heart of Comedy Central, championing and nurturing the best talent in the industry, in front of and behind the camera,” Ganeless continued. “Through his unique voice and vision, ‘The Daily Show’ has become a cultural touchstone for millions of fans and an unparalleled platform for political comedy that will endure for years to come.”
Rumors that his departure was caused by my appearance on the show last fall could not be confirmed at this time.
We’ve had plenty of disagreements here about The Daily Show in the past, and I still maintain that Stewart provided a solid value for Comedy Central. I enjoyed his show, even though we were probably about as far apart ideologically as two people could be. Yes, he was very preachy on a number of issues near and dear to my heart and it was easy to let him drive you mad if you took it too seriously, but he has also been a really funny guy who produced a good product. He gave a start to many other comedians’ careers on TV and poked fun at people who frequently were in need of a good poke.
I’m not entirely sure why he chose this moment to do this. I will say that I was rather dubious about the theory floated by the Morning Joe crew today when they speculated that Stewart made the announcement as a favor to Brian Williams to take some of the pressure off of him. That doesn’t make sense to me. It’s possible that Stewart has simply made more than enough money (many reports indicate that his net worth is in the 100 million range and he is paid between 25 and 30 million per year now) and just wants to go spend time with his family. He made a movie last year (which didn’t exactly take flight at the box office) so maybe he’s thinking of doing more of that. He could probably just go back on tour doing standup again and bring in some nice coin as well.
The question for Comedy Central at this point is whether or not they continue the show and try to insert a new host. Stewart actually wasn’t the first host of The Daily Show, though Craig Kilborn never seemed to take off the way Stewart did. They could have replaced him with John Oliver if they had moved faster, but now Oliver has his own show on HBO which was recently renewed. (If you haven’t seen it, you might want to give it a look. It’s pretty funny.) Similarly, Larry Wilmore already has his own show, but I suppose they could move that into the 11:00 slot if they are thinking of just cancelling The Daily Show. Stewart has just become so much the identifying face of TDS at this point that I’m not sure if a new host would work.
Either way, I think I’ll miss seeing Stewart. Even for his frustrating, biased world view, the guy is a pretty good comic.