The Daily Show has long been a fixture in late-night satire news. The show’s been around for almost 20 years, 16 of which have featured Jon Stewart as host. In that time, Stewart made himself into an icon, expertly blending comedy and news in a way that’s been copied and built on into a whole new generation of shows.
No one can deny his influence on even the modern news landscape, making the recent announcement that he’d be leaving The Daily Show that much more tragic. Without Stewart in the chair, it’s hard to picture a future for a program that hasn’t changed hosts since 1999.
All that aside, the timing may be perfect for a changing of the guard. If you’ve been tuning in the last couple of years, it’s clear that Stewart’s been getting increasingly more exhausted with the job. He even admitted as much in an interview with The Guardian, noting that he’s “not getting the same satisfaction” he used to derive from the show. That’s not to say he’s lost his edge, as it’s been as superb as ever. The writing staff he employs is top-notch, and there’s no shortage of ridiculous happenings in the mainstream journalism world to lampoon.
Many look at the subpar ratings of Larry Wilmore’s The Nightly Show as a barometer for how a show or time slot functions without its original iconic personality. Stephen Colbert departed for late-night glory on network TV, leaving behind a show that’s seen its ratings plummet in his wake. It makes sense, given that filling Colbert’s shoes is no small task for anyone. Stewart’s heir-apparent in Trevor Noah will likely see a similar struggle, but given the timing of his departure, Noah might actually be set up for success.
There are any number of reasons why it’s better for Stewart to say goodbye. Sixteen years is a lot of time for anyone to maintain a passion for any one thing. What was the last thing you cared about for that long? Not many people can answer that question with any sort of certainty, making the new age of The Daily Show a positive inevitability.
Stewart wasn’t going to love doing this forever, so why chain him to the desk indefinitely? A fresh face with his blessing could breathe new life into the show, and in turn restart the clock on our viewers’ interest in tuning in regularly. But it’s not just the circumstances that make this perfect.
We’re about to enter one of the most contested election cycles our country has seen since Bush/Gore in 2000. With no sitting president running for office, it’s technically anyone’s game following a midterm election that swung in a decidedly Republican direction. With this, the age of technology and social media has only intensified since the 2012 election.
This makes programs like The Daily Show that much more integral to the process, especially given CNN and Fox News’ overwrought and sometimes exhausting election coverage. Enter Noah, the new host of the The Daily Show. While Wilmore was left to occupy a chair with no major news context to help his ratings, The Daily Show may very well live on post-Stewart based solely on the timing of Noah’s entrance.
We all knew that Stewart couldn’t stay with Comedy Central forever. The question after that realization concerns the long-term survival of the show. If we want to see it extend far past the Stewart era, it needs to be set up for success with fresh young talent and a well-timed changing of the guard. For the time being, it seems like The Daily Show could survive its transition and then some.