Tonight, Jon Stewart will host his final episode of “The Daily Show.” He’s been at the show’s helm for 16 years, from the end of the Clinton years to the close of the Obama era.
In that time, he’s established himself as a national icon, taking to the air every night at 11 p.m. to, as New Yorker editor David Remnick put it, “expose our civic bizarreries.”
In honour of the end of his Emmy-winning tenure — though not, he reminds us, his actual end (“Guys, let me make something clear,” he reminded his audience at a recent taping, The Week reports. “I’m not dying.”) — we looked back on the incredible and winding career of the legendary comedian.
Jonathan Stewart Leibowitz was born in 1962 in New York City. His mother, Marian, was a teacher who later became an educational consultant. His father, Don, was a physicist. (His older brother, Larry, was 2 at the time, and went on to work on Wall Street, and is the former COO of NYSE Euronext.)
The Leibowitzes moved to a middle-class neighbourhood in Lawrence Township, New Jersey, where Stewart grew up. His was one of the few Jewish families in town, and he was often teased as a kid, according to the New Yorker's Tad Friend. 'He recalls being called 'Leibotits' and 'Leibosh--s,' and getting punched out at the bus stop when he was in the seventh grade.'
Though the young Stewart earned the title of 'Best Sense of Humour' in high school, he was more invested in his soccer career, according to a profile in Moment Magazine. An all-state (honorable mention) pick his senior year, he chose The College of William and Mary, in part for its soccer team.
Stewart ultimately graduated with a degree in psychology and no plan, New York Magazine reports. Among his first jobs: working as the 'agar chef' in a cancer research lab, separating live male and female mosquitoes for the state of New Jersey, and 'performing for kids as part of a puppet show about the disabled.' It would not be his last time performing with puppets, as evidenced here.
In the Los Angeles Times, he characterised his early days of standup as being 'sort of like bronco riding: 'How long can I stay up here?'' He was hooked. '(T)here's an excitement of being uncensored and just speaking your mind,' he said. 'In some ways it's gladiatorial. I think that's what drew me to it.'
Stewart became a regular at New York's Comedy Cellar and got his start in TV with an (uncredited) writing gig for 'Caroline's Comedy Hour' on A&E. In 1992, he landed a spot hosting MTV's 'You Wrote It, You Watch It' and, as New York Magazine puts it, spent 13 weeks 'trying to rise above the fart jokes.'
David Letterman became a fan, and Stewart became a regular on 'Late Night,' even auditioning to take over the show when Letterman left for CBS. He didn't get the job -- that went to Conan O'Brien (a goofier and more 'huggable,' choice, observed the Washington Post) -- but Stewart did get tapped to host his own show on MTV. And so 'The Jon Stewart Show' was born. In case you missed it:
After 'The Jon Stewart Show' was cancelled, Stewart became a regular guest host of 'The Late Late Show with Tom Snyder.' He also acted, making guest appearances on shows like 'Spin City' and 'The Nanny.' He was best when he was playing a version of himself, as he did on the 'psuedo-realistic' sitcom 'The Larry Sanders Show,' Moment noted. Here he is, being (sort of) himself on 'Larry Sanders.'
He also appeared in a handful of movies, including the 1999 Adam Sandler comedy, 'Big Daddy.' Later, he would use every available opportunity to make fun of this phase of his career. 'I'm a terrible actor!' he said on a recent episode of 'The Daily Show.'
But while he was successful -- in addition to his TV and movie career, he'd also written a New York Times Best Seller, 'Naked Pictures of Famous People' -- he hadn't found his niche. 'Stewart was in danger of becoming another Gilbert Gottfried or Dana Carvey: talented comedians who never found the right vessel and just faded away,' The New Yorker observed. Here he is in 'The Nanny.'
And then, in 1999, 37-year-old Stewart took over 'The Daily Show,' replacing Craig Kilborn. After what New York calls a 'slightly bumpy beginning,' Stewart hit his stride. He steered the show away from its previous Hollywood focus and 'came into his own' with his laser-sharp coverage of the 2000 presidential election.
And then 9/11 happened. When 'The Daily Show' returned nine days later, Stewart's opening monologue made headlines for capturing the country's collective grief. It was a 'somber, halting speech that addressed the sudden absurdity of his jester role as well as its importance,' Friend wrote.
Stewart wasn't the only one who rose to stardom from the show. Among the (many) other standouts were Stephen Colbert and Steve Carell, who starred together in the triumphant recurring segment, 'Even Stevphen.' Case in point:
One of Stewart's most defining 'Daily Show' moments happened off 'The Daily Show.' In 2004, he appeared on CNN's debate show, 'Crossfire,' and confronted hosts Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson, begging them to 'stop hurting America.' 'You're partisan -- what do you call it -- hacks,' Stewart said.
Among his best moments: his 2011 Glenn Beck takedown, his legendary 2009 Jim Cramer interview, and the 'Guantanamo Baywatch' segment (featuring the puppet 'Gitmo.') But no list would be complete without mentioning his coverage of 2006's 'Dick-Cheney-shot-a-guy-in-the-face-gate,' here:
Not that Stewart has been above criticism -- from all sides. (A recent Slate headline: 'Why Jon Stewart Was Bad for the Liberals Who Loved Him.') But his most reliable enemy has been Fox News, which has repeatedly accused him of being a liberal propagandist in a 'bromance' with Obama. It's been fodder for the show:
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