It's not enough to say that Jon Stewart was a pioneer -- that he completely invented a new form of comedy, of political satire behind a mock TV news desk, that he changed not only how politicians answered questions and handled the media, but how the media asked questions and handled their subjects, that his time at the head of The Daily Show is a legitimate B.C. and A.D. thing -- can anyone even remember when he wasn't on your TV, or your newsfeed and does it feel like you were even conscious before he arrived?
He was a pioneer, of course. All the rest of that stuff above is true, too.
But there have always been snarky people. There has always been sarcasm. But it hasn't always been quality.
There will be others after Stewart, just like there have been others during Stewart. But it's not enough to be an activist, or to be annoying, or to be loud, or to just only occasionally hit the nail on the head, or whatever. Stewart was often left of someone on the right, often right of someone on the left. There wasn't a line with him and he seemed to sort of hate the wake his speed boat created -- like how Kerouac must have rolled his eyes at Beatniks and hippies, Stewart bristled whenever someone asked him if he was a journalist, if he should be held accountable for his jokes, as if they were statements.
He was such a force, he wasn't just a hero to his audience. He was also something to copy and paste -- the first, only original who breeds a thousand hacks.
That's why today's news is, if you're a fan, and even if you weren't, a real tragedy. Nobody will be able to hold everyone's feet to the fire at once. Nobody will be able to legitimately scare the shit out of every talking head, every soundbite politician, everyone in authority, not to the point that they'll have to reconsider everything they say before they say it, just in case it lands them in Stewart's crosshairs.
And if they are able to bring someone on and question them to death -- like Piers Morgan tried and failed to do with the gun issue, like John Oliver is still learning how to do but without guests, like Don Lemon tries with everyone and anyone, regardless of whether it's necessary -- all they'll really do is remind you of how great Stewart was, and probably could always still be.
Too many people just try to fill the space in the air, that hour between when their show starts and their show ends. Guests are brought on to clog the gaps; commentary is forced and fake. Opinions don't matter a whole lot, because everyone's got one and you probably already know what theirs is. Anchors -- local and national -- for some reason still end their shows with useless, horrible, terrible banter. They probably needed to once, back when America was wondering what Walter Cronkite really thought -- but now we know what everyone thinks, because they offer it up all the time, and the banter continues... not because the audience gives a shit about what (Insert Name Here) did last weekend, but because it's just accepted now.
The news was necessary once, back when we needed it to tell us something we didn't already know. And we still need it -- but we need it to be told with awareness, like the anchor knows we're as smart as he is. The audience isn't the audience anymore, not in a theatrical sense. The audience used to watch to validate the anchor -- now, anchors are wheeled out to validate us.
We already know the lede, the headline. You're going to have to tell us something new, in a different way, every night for 60 minutes. Stewart figured this out five years before he needed to, and then continued it for over a decade later. And he held our attention the entire time, constantly taking the temperature, shaking the thermometer, and starting again.
He didn't consider himself a newsman, at least not over being a comedian. But still, he accomplished everything a newsman -- and newswoman -- could hope to. He was the most trusted man in America.
Today, a whole lot of people breathed a sigh of relief. Because their job got easier without Jon Stewart.
I think that's the ultimate compliment.
*This was originally published on White Cover Magazine...
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