Tonight is Jon Stewart’s final appearance on The Daily Show. I’m not emotionally ready for him to go, but he deserves the break. For the past 16 years Stewart has been my port in the storm, my 30 minute break from the frustration of being a liberal guy in a very red state. And even though he doesn’t know I exist, I credit him for a lot of the lessons I have learned over the last decade and a half.
I first found Stewart on the 17 inch screen of the TV in my freshman college dorm room. It was the first couple weeks of school and I was not the most outgoing guy. I had all these dreams of going from high school to college and immediately making a bunch of friends. Instead I spent most of my non-class hours sitting in my dorm room listening to the rumblings of people more socially adept than I talking in the halls. To drown them out, I flipped over to Comedy Central and found Jon.
I started college in 2000, which also coincided with a presidential election. Before then, my interest in politics was pretty limited. I grew up in a house with a strong feminist mother and a card-carrying NRA Father. We had a good mix of liberal and conservative beliefs at the dinner table, but if I ever asked my parents about party politics the general consensus was that they were all a bunch of crooks. I suppose this is understandable. My parents came of age in the time of Nixon. They didn’t like Jimmy Carter much, and I never heard a kind word about Ronald Reagan. I think they spent most of the 90’s rolling their eyes at Bill Clinton, which is why I blame them both for my decision to throw away my first presidential vote on Ralph Nader and personally cost Al Gore the 2000 election. Sorry Al.
The 2000 election was my first experience with politics, and it felt like a very broken process. Every night I’d watch people shouting at each other on the news, which felt like very new thing in 2000, and then I would flip over to The Daily Show and watch Stewart’s sarcastic take on the whole affair. It was nice. It was comforting to be able to laugh about the whole thing.
My dad is funny sarcastic guy too. I got a lot of my sense of humor from him. The more I learned about politics and current events the more I was able to take my dad’s humor and apply it to the topics I had heard about on The Daily Show. As you can imagine, this went over well in the liberal enclave of a public university. I started making more friends. I found a group of liberal, non-LDS people at my university that I had no idea existed. Well, we all found each other. We all had The Daily Show in common. We laughed our way through the next year. Then two planes flew into The World Trade center in New York City.
By then I had moved out of the dorms and was living in a fraternity house with my buddies. The morning of the attack I woke to my friend Joe pounding on my door and screaming about how we had just gotten “Fucked.” My first thought was that the Sigma Nus had pulled some sort of prank like leaving a bag of flaming shit on our front step, or stealing the crest off our front door. I hopped out of bed, pulled my pants on, forewent the shirt, and ran down the stairs to see what the damage was. It was only when I got down to the front steps of the house that I realized that Joe had not followed. I got back up to my room just in time to see the second plane hit the second tower on the 17 inch television I had brought with me from my dorm room.
None of us went to class. After spending a few hours frantically trying to contact my dad, who worked at the Salt Lake City airport, and running from window to window to see if any other planes were going to fall out of the sky, we spent the rest of the day silently watching CNN. I think what people forget, or just don’t know because they only have learned about 9-11 in classes and books, is that morning none of us knew how big or small the attack was. Now we know the attack was on DC and New York City, but for those first few hours we were all genuinely scared that we were next.
The next few days were silent days. There was very little laughter in our lives. We waited for news to come in. We went back to class. People you knew, and people you didn’t know would randomly start crying. None of us really knew how to get started again. CNN was on non-stop in the house, until nine days later on September 20, Jon Stewart and The Daily Show came back on the air. We changed the channel to Comedy Central and watched this.
And just like that, everything we were feeling was reflected back. Our funny guy was reeling too. And somehow, knowing that made it feel a little more normal. Eventually things moved on, and so did all of us.
It took me six more years to graduate from college. Shut up. A lot of people go to college for seven years. During that time, I continued watching news unfold and then flipping over to The Daily Show. I was in line at Disney Land with my girlfriend when I heard that we had invaded Iraq. I looked at her and said “Nothing is going to be the same after this.”
“Nothing is ever really the same,” she replied.
And yet, I knew The Daily Show would be on. Stewart’s satire carried me through the rest of the Bush years. He summed up my frustrations. He made me laugh at my anger. And yet, sometimes I found myself wondering if The Daily Show was partially responsible for making me the sarcastic, cynical, albeit funny, asshole I was when I graduated college.
By the time I graduated in 2007 sarcasm had stopped being my social crutch and fully transformed into my social sledge hammer. Social media was in full swing, MySpace and Facebook gave me a forum to tell all of my conservative friends how very wrong they were. This process was helped by another Presidential Election in 2008 where my guy was the guy who won.
Suddenly things shifted. I was no longer the politically oppressed one. The guy I voted for won. I quickly realized that while it is easy to shout down the guy in charge, it is much harder to defend him. Luckily I had my trusty sword of sarcasm. Everyone who disagreed with Obama was a redneck racist. Everyone who hated Obamacare was gleefully ignorant. There was no separation between my conservative friends and Fox News. They were all a part of the same problem. They were all caricatures of conservative stereotypes, and I had learned well how to mock them.
This didn’t go over well. I lost a lot of friends over issues we honestly never would have discussed in our day to day lives had it not been for political fights on Facebook.
By this time, I had met my future wife. At one point, after reading her a 50+ comment back and forth fight, and looking for her to laugh along with me at my witty comebacks she finally said, “You know, you’re right, but you don’t have to be an asshole about it. And honestly, is being right worth losing a friend?”
It wasn’t. And she was right. I needed to put my sarcasm down. I did. I decided to stop having political fights on Facebook. It wasn’t worth losing friends. And when the right-wing memes got to be too much, and the anti-Obama rhetoric was overwhelming to the point that I felt like I was going to scream, I turned off the computer and turned on The Daily Show. Stewart and company were still my pressure release valve.
I watched Stewart through the economic collapse and through the recovery. Stevie and I tuned in every night through Obama’s reelection. We didn’t always agree with him. We cringed at his impression of Herman Cain, which is funny because we later found out that Wyatt Senac also cringed at that moment. Still, I could see that Stewart worked hard to yell funny truth to power, even when it was our guy who was in charge.
In the meantime, Stevie and I made a couple kids from scratch. We bought a house. We got grown up jobs. The world around us shrank in a very meaningful way. The politics of sharing puzzles started to matter more to us than the politics of Washington. I’d still catch The Daily Show here and there, but the fatigue of having two kids under five made it much harder to stay up until ten, let alone get emotionally invested in politics enough to then turn around and laugh at them.
Stewart seemed to be getting tired too. He took a summer off to direct a film project that meant a lot to him called “Rosewater”. It didn’t get a very wide release, and wasn’t a hit at the box office. I enjoyed the film and would recommend it, but I doubt it was as well received as Stewart wanted it to be. I imagine that was really frustrating. A couple million people tune in every night to hear you joke about the news, but you put your heart into getting serious for a 108 minutes and no one shows up. That must have sucked.
But Stewart kept on keeping on. The quality of the show hasn’t gone down. The addition of Donald “the perfect joke” Trump to the Republican Primary has given Stewart a shot of adrenaline during the last month of his run. And as I have been tuning in more and more to his last few laps, the more I have realized that while I may not be emotionally ready to say goodbye to someone that, even having not ever met him, has played such a huge part in my life. In a way, I already have.
Goodbye Jon. Take your well-deserved bow. Thanks for the more than the laughs. See you tonight.
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