This morning, with a heavy heart, I deleted my collection of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart from the DVR. Stewart’s humor and wisdom were so articulate of my own sentiments that discarding the shows felt similar to cleaning out the closet of a lost loved one (or at least someone that I have loved). I experienced bittersweet loss, memories of the times we had, and mourning that those times will never come again.
The reason Friends was such a success was that we all wanted to be part of a smart, lovingly bantering group of pretty folks who were stalwartly there for each other — to be the seventh friend. The Daily Show has been our political Friends, where we were the silent partners of those incredibly smart, insightful heroes of comedy and the political conversation. We wanted to be on the stage during that last week being hugged by Jon. He was in our houses four nights a week, and we felt we were in his.
Lying on my comfy Tempur-Pedic, I watched him raise his razor-witted sword and battle against the hypocrisy and hubris controlling our lives and future. With him as our leader, I felt we could change the world. Better armed with facts than anyone but Edward R. Murrow, he would take on all comers. Err even a little, and gamble that he would call you out and politely pull your pants down. But I also watched him grow weary of the repetition of subjects: the inability to change, the deep virus of classism, racism, and ignorance fronting for greed.
With a rich history of 20th-century political comedians speaking truth to power — and actually coming along a few years after Bill Maher’s Politically Incorrect — Stewart firmly held a standard of intelligence and hilarity that few have equaled. Did he change us? Yes, many of us watch Maher’s Real Time, the wizened Larry Wilmore, and John Oliver’s brave editorials. But are we doing anything about it? Posting on Facebook to all our friends who think just like we do isn’t going to cut it.
What is his legacy?
So Stewart’s 16 years might not have done a damned thing. So few of us show up and vote, and even fewer of us donate any time, talent, or treasure to fight the good fight. We have a big election coming up, but in our democracy there is always an election. And we no longer have Mr. Stewart to proxy our outrage or quarterback our offensive for us.
One of the biggest challenges in our coming elections is how hard the establishment has made it just to vote. Nationally, 468 new laws and regulations making it harder to vote have been passed since 2011. You know Stewart would continue to address this stripping of voting rights. Most of these obstacles will not touch the demographics of the Daily Show audience, but they will affect the outcome, if we aren’t vigilant. We have to show up. We have to help others to show up. We have to commit that time and treasure.
Stewart did our homework for us, illuminating complexities and engaging us by always being authentic. He never diluted his views, and he never went for the cheap shot. But, as with all good teachers, he is forcing us to graduate. As he actively continues with issues and causes we all need to care about — veterans, first responders, autism, and the culture of violence in America — we need to take his lessons of involvement and get off our mattress and do good works. Vote, canvass, march, and as Mr. Stewart says, stand up to bullshit whenever and wherever you smell it.
For Dan Rottenberg’s thoughts on Jon Stewart, click here.