Jon Stewart, the comedian who turned Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” into a sharp-edged nightly commentary on news events, the people behind them and the media that reports (and sometimes misreports) it, said Tuesday that he would step down from the program after more than 15 years as its anchor.
Stewart disclosed his plans to depart “The Daily Show” during a taping of the program Tuesday. His announcement was confirmed by Comedy Central, which said in a statement that he would “remain at the helm of ‘The Daily Show’ until later this year.”
Stewart, 52, became the host of “The Daily Show” in 1999, entering with the identity of a hardworking standup, if not necessarily known as an astute political commentator.
A decade and a half later, his satirical sensibility helped turn “The Daily Show,” where he also serves as an executive producer, into an influential platform of news and media commentary, both in the United States and around the world. Under his direction, the program has been a humorous release valve for politically frustrated (often left-leaning) viewers and a bête-noir of (often right-leaning) critics who see too much collusion between politics and the fourth estate.
As recently as Monday night’s “Daily Show” broadcast, Stewart had been taking aim at the recent scandal that has engulfed NBC news anchor Brian Williams, commenting on Williams’ alleged propensity for personal exaggeration as well as the media’s failings to more thoroughly question the underpinnings of the Iraq War.
Speaking of Williams, a frequent “Daily Show” guest, Stewart said, “See, I see the problem. We got us a case here of infotainment confusion syndrome. It occurs when the celebrity cortex gets its wires crossed with the medulla anchor-dala.”
Noting the widespread media coverage of Williams’ woes, Stewart wryly added, “Finally someone is being held to account for misleading America about the Iraq War.”
NBC suspended Williams for six months without pay Tuesday.
Created by Lizz Winstead and Madeleine Smithberg, “The Daily Show” had its debut in 1996 with Craig Kilborn, the former “SportsCenter” anchor, gaining some buzz for its mixture of “Weekend Update”-style news-driven comedy and Kilborn’s sarcastic celebrity interviews.
Under Stewart, “The Daily Show” made Comedy Central a formidable player in late-night entertainment, a field that had largely belonged to the broadcast networks and programs like David Letterman’s “Late Show” (on CBS) and Jay Leno’s “Tonight Show” (on NBC).
During Stewart’s tenure, “The Daily Show” won nearly two dozen Emmy Awards, including numerous trophies for outstanding variety series and outstanding writing of a variety series.
The program also became remarkable for its success rate in launching the careers of other comic talents, who generally started out as on-air correspondents on “The Daily Show.” Stephen Colbert used “The Daily Show” to refine his persona as a blowhard commentator and parlay it into his own companion series on Comedy Central, “The Colbert Report.” In April, CBS announced Colbert would succeed Letterman as the host of its “Late Show.”
Steve Carell, who went on to become the lead actor of NBC’s “The Office” and an Academy Award-nominated star of “Foxcatcher,” broke through as a “Daily Show” correspondent under Stewart. So too did John Oliver, now the host of HBO’s news satire program “Last Week Tonight,” and Larry Wilmore, who now hosts Comedy Central’s “Nightly Show,” following “The Daily Show.”