Buddhist founders never intended for a stark-raving-mad comic to secure the title of Zen master.
But for 16 years, Jon Stewart has used his “The Daily Show” mat to bring peace to millions of followers, reminding them they’re not the only ones frustrated by the shortcomings of journalists and politicians.
Stewart will almost certainly continue to meditate on current affairs long after his departure Thursday from the anchor chair, and we send nothing but positive vibes out to Trevor Noah, who takes over Sept. 28.
But there’s no question that Stewart’s final show marks the end of an era. In tribute to the program’s standard closing — a snippet of out-of-this-world news footage billed as “your moment of Zen” — here are 10 highlights that helped us breathe easier.
“The Daily Show” eventually became a popular platform for authors and legislators, but during the first two years under Stewart it relied almost solely on the usual parade of actors and comics. The first gate-crasher was Bob Dole, who made more than a half-dozen acerbic, amusing appearances during that period, clearing a path for his fellow wonks. “John F. Kennedy said, ‘The torch has been passed to a new generation hardened by war,’ ” Stewart said to Dole. “Do you get the sense now that the torch is being passed to a new generation ruined by MTV?” Dec. 7, 1999
“Indecision,” the show’s banner for coverage of national conventions, would get smarter and funnier with age, but its inaugural attempt, which concluded with an exasperated Stewart announcing that the Supreme Court had given the election to George W. Bush, became the program’s first can’t-miss moment. Stewart: “The final margin in the state of Florida? Five votes to four votes.” Dec. 13, 2000
Statue of liberty
In his first commentary after the World Trade Center tragedy, Stewart said he was sorry to subject the audience to “another overwrought speech by a shaken host.” No apologies necessary. Stewart, never mistaken for a flag waver, delivered one of the month’s most patriotic responses, beautifully articulating why he grieved but didn’t despair. “The view from my apartment was the World Trade Center. And now it’s gone,” he said. “But you know what the view is now? The Statue of Liberty. The view from the south of Manhattan is now the Statue of Liberty. You can’t beat that.” Sept. 20, 2001
Stewart was supposedly on “Crossfire” to plug his bestseller, “America (The Book).” Instead, he used the occasion to rip the pundits and the CNN staple itself, insisting that the combative format was hurting the country. Less than three months later, the series was canceled. “I thought you were going to be funny,” said co-host Tucker Carlson. Stewart responded: “I’m not going to be your monkey.” Oct. 15, 2004
And the winner is …
The 78th and 80th Academy Awards may have been two of the lowest-rated ceremonies in Oscar history, but that had more to do with the nominees (“Crash” and “No Country for Old Men” were the big winners) than with Stewart, who handled himself like a pro as host, even though he was relatively light on the celebrity crowd. Perhaps he was hoping a grateful Hollywood would green-light “Death to Smoochy 2.” “The Oscars is really the one night of the year when you can see all your favorite stars without having to donate any money to the Democratic Party,” he said at the 78th awards. March 5, 2006, and Feb. 24, 2008
Unlike Bill Maher, the only other genuine contender for TV’s political comedy throne these past 15 years, Stewart wasn’t afraid to show off his goofy side — especially when a writers’ strike kept his team on the sidelines. Helping fill the downtime was an ongoing “feud” with Conan O’Brien and Stephen Colbert over who discovered presidential candidate Mike Huckabee. The end result was a three-way battle punctuated with cartoon punches and ridiculous dances, more Three Stooges than Mort Sahl. “Let’s be clear: None of these guys made me. This great nation made me. So vote for me. God bless America and forget these three idiots,” Huckabee said. Feb. 4, 2008
Mad Money meltdown
CNBC’s Jim Cramer made a lot of blunders in his coverage of the biggest global financial crisis in recent history. But none of those mishaps compared to his decision to appear on “The Daily Show” for what turned out to be an epic scolding from Stewart, who urged him to set aside his on-air antics and get back to the fundamentals of reporting. “I can’t reconcile the brilliance and knowledge that you have of the intricacies of the market with the crazy [expletive] I see you do every night,” Stewart told him. March 12, 2009
Becoming Glenn Beck
Stewart was never known for his acting chops, a fact he reminded viewers of last week in a hilarious “tribute” to his movie credentials. But he perfectly channeled Glenn Beck in a 13-minute parody of the ultraconservative’s evangelistic style, presenting the flash-in-the-pan pundit as an addlebrained professor. Stewart: “I’m not saying that believing there should be a minimal standard for how much lead should be in our paint might lead to the government having the right to sterilize and kill Jews. I’m not saying that might be the case. I’m saying that’s the case.” March 18, 2010
President Obama visited “The Daily Show” six times, appearances that some found too chummy (Stewart once called him “dude”) and others found penetrating (one White House staffer said Stewart asked more challenging questions than did the mainstream media). Obama may have seemed a bit perturbed during his first visit as president, especially after Stewart suggested that his legislative approach to health care reform had been “timid.” But he must not have been too rattled — the next year, Obama welcomed Stewart for the first of two private meetings at the White House. “Did you just invite me to the White House?” Stewart asked. Obama replied, “No, no. Because we’d have to disclose it and I don’t think you would actually — ” Stewart cut in: “Right. You don’t want people knowing I was over there.” Obama: “Exactly.” Oct. 27, 2010
Substitute for another guy
Stewart’s “Rosewater” may have gotten respectable reviews, but the film’s greatest legacy may be that its production gave John Oliver a chance to shine. Instead of insisting on reruns during his 13-week hiatus to direct, Stewart graciously allowed future HBO standout John Oliver a chance to keep the anchor seat warm — and become an overnight sensation. Oliver, as well as Stephen Colbert, Steve Carell, Larry Wilmore and Ed Helms, all benefited mightily from their boss’ selfless support. Oliver opened his first fill-in show saying, “Let’s all just acknowledge for a moment that this is weird,” June 10, 2013