Jon Stewart’s final moment of Zen arrives Thursday night, capping his 16 years behind “The Daily Show” desk.
His run not only changed late-night television forever, according to experts, but the landscape of the media itself.
Stewart’s characteristic mix of political analysis and blunt humor drew out the hypocrisies inherent in government and every sector of the media, according to Paul Levinson, a professor of communications and media studies at Fordham University. That’s nothing new for comedians, Levinson said, “but Jon Stewart made it OK for a news show to do it.”
Stewart used humor to push toward substantial sociological and political changes, helping to get the 9/11 responders bill passed, advocating for equal rights and starting a program to help veterans get jobs.
“People who watched him went there to get a perspective. They didn’t go there just to see the new movie clip or whatever,” said Julianna Forlano, a professor of comedy writing at Brooklyn College.
Caroline Hirsch, the owner of Carolines on Broadway, worked with Stewart years ago when he was a budding stand-up comedian and later as a writer for her A&E comedy show in the late ’80s. She said Stewart took cues from comedians like George Carlin and Jerry Seinfeld, who went to the headlines for their laughs.
“The thing about Jon is his ability to process the information and put a comedic spin. It is something only a comedic genius can do,” she said.
The show’s appeal can be traced to the ways it reflected Stewart’s New York sensibilities as well, said Brian Dunphy, the deputy chair of the TV and radio department at Brooklyn College.
“It’s his personality, the cynical New Yorker,” Dunphy said. “It’s those little things, like where he makes fun of people with the funny voices, that are very New York.”
Levinson added that filming the show in Manhattan further enhanced its presentation.
“The realism of the show was stronger with that New York presence,” he said.
Stewart’s most lasting impact can be felt in the ways he connected with younger audiences, providing them with information about national and world news that they simply might not have gotten elsewhere, according to Levinson.
Of course, “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” isn’t a one-man program. It’s featured an impressive team of correspondents and writers, from Samantha Bee to John Oliver, Stephen Colbert and Jessica Williams.
Bee, Colbert, Oliver, Larry Willmore and Jason Jones all have or will soon have their own shows.
“They really carry on his style to their shows and bits while at the same time having their own voice,” said Deborah Gambs, a sociology professor at Borough of Manhattan Community College.
Dunphy and other media watchers expect “The Daily Show” to retain its basic tone under Trevor Noah. Dunphy said it’s too early to know what sort of changes the new host will bring to the program, though of course there will be differences.
“He comes in with that blank slate and a world view of American politics and media,” Dunphy said of the 31-year-old South Africa native.
As for how Stewart will bow out tonight, media experts predicted laughs, self-deprecation and a heartfelt thank you for 16 years of support.
“He always wore his heart on his sleeve and that will be there in his final show,” Levinson said.