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When David Letterman left The Late Show in May, it was a sad occasion. But many fans — and, it seemed, Letterman himself — believed his departure was due, the talk-show host having clearly lost interest in so much of the culture he was supposed to be talking about.
The same cannot be said of Jon Stewart, who ended his 16-year-long tenure as host of The Daily Show Thursday night with a special expanded episode. In the months leading up to his departure, the comedian had seemed as enthusiastic as ever about parodically skewering the aspects of politics and political coverage which he found distasteful, hypocritical, or just plain dumb. On his penultimate show, Stewart ruminated — tongue-in-cheekedly but perhaps not incorrectly — that the world had actually gotten worse since he took over the Daily Show hosting chair from Craig Kilborn back in 1999. Certainly, had Stewart stayed longer, there would have been no danger of him running out of subject matter. At the same time Stewart was taping his show in the early evening, a preposterous 17 Republican presidential hopefuls — including longtime Daily Show target Donald Trump — were in Cleveland, to take part in the two debates deemed necessary for such an engorged field. It was an eerily synchronous reminder that there will always be plenty of red meat around for a politically minded comedy carnivore.
Indeed, for a couple of minutes at the top of Stewart’s finale, it seemed at least slightly possible that he might have decided to fake-cover those debates as he connected with current — and supposedly-in-Cleveland — correspondents Jessica Williams, Hasan Minhaj, and Jordan Klepper, who expressed delight at having been asked to ruminate on one particular candidate’s performance. “I can’t believe Trump took out his penis,” Klepper told Stewart, “so late in the debate.”
But as the trio were joined by Lewis Black, John Hodgman, Steve Carell, and a number of Stewart’s other former Daily Show colleagues, it became clear that the point of the segment was not political excoriation but a string of scripted interractions between the host and his ex-correspondents. The list of returnees included Ed Helms, Rob Riggle, Olivia Munn, Mo Rocca, Rob and Nate Corrdry, Michael Che, Samantha Bee, John Oliver, new Daily Show frontman Trevor Noah, and Frozen star Josh Gad whose declaration that he was “a showbiz god” prompted Stewart to respond, “… among 8-year-olds.”
Perhaps the biggest surprise was the appearance of Wyatt Cenac, who recently recalled on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast that Stewart had told him to “F— off” after he raised concerns about what he regarded as a racially insensitive segment. The comedian’s WTF appearance was itself tacitly referenced as Cenac pretended he was outside the Daily Show studio and in no hurry to come in.
Stewart: “I’d love to see you!”
Cenac: “I’ll think about it.”
A number of taped farewells were also shown from, among others, Hillary Clinton (“And just when I’m running for President. What a bummer”), John McCain (“So long, jackass”) and Kilborn (“I knew you were going to run this thing into the ground”).
The last ex-correspondent to take the stage was future Late Show host Stephen Colbert who performed a Lord of the Rings-themed bit and then went off-script to thank Stewart for the help he had given himself and the other correspondents. “We owe you, because we learned from you,” Colbert said, before confessing that, without Stewart’s assistance, he had no idea what might have happened to “this son of a poor, Appalachian turd-miner.”
The show’s second segment comprised a taped, Goodfellas-parodying tour of the Daily Show studios — complete with Martin Scorsese cameo — which allowed the narrating Stewart to give his backstage staff brief, but individual, moments in the spotlight while also riffing on the idea that he had little idea what his employees were actually named (“… Beardy McPlaid, and Beardy McPlaid, and Beardy McPlaid …”). In the next part, Stewart delivered a monologue warning against “pernicious bulls–t” and the “bulls—-ocracy.” “The best defense against bulls— is vigilance,” Stewart concluded. “So, if you smell something, say something.”
Finally, Stewart introduced his beloved Bruce Springsteen who, together with E Street Band, performed “Land of Hope and Dreams,” a personal request of the comedian himself, according to The Boss.
“Rather than say, ‘Goodbye,’ I’m just going to say, ‘I’m going to get a drink,'” Stewart had explained earlier in the show. Fans of sharp political satire — this writer included — will be hoping he doesn’t stay at the bar for too long.