I sat down and watched Jon Stewart's last episode of The Daily Show. I'm torn on whether or not that was a good idea. There are a lot of things going on in my life right now that I really just cannot handle, and he's leaving a job that he's worked the hell out of for sixteen years. I should have realized I was going to end up crying.

They got Colbert to do the farewell thanks. I don't know they would have even thought to ask anyone else. Various cast and crew comments suggest my guess was right: The two of them snapped together like magnets as soon as they got within range. Their friendship became one of the meta-laws of the Daily Show universe that was implied by the counterfactual narrative, like the acknowledgement that the comedians on the show were selected on the basis of being quite smart, even as the "correspondents" were written to be idiots and loons. The undercurrent remained even though the character of "Colbert" should logically have loathed someone that liberal. John Oliver's blackout was of course because "Colbert" couldn't stand the separation, and when Stewart came back from directing a movie in Jordan, naturally "Colbert" was the only one who could beat some America back into him. The only time "Colbert" has ever even suggested that someone other than himself was qualified enough to be a "Formidable Opponent" was at their joint Rally To Restore Sanity and/or Fear.

Stewart must have known that speech was coming, because he's done it to other correspondents as they left. Colbert had to chase him around in a desk chair for a bit before he'd sit still and take it. Stewart couldn't look at him for most of the piece, although for different reasons than usual. He broke down and tried not to sniffle too loudly into his lav mic, even as he laughed through a callback to a bit they did back when he was first realizing he could not make eye contact with Colbert on stage if he wanted to get any of his remaining lines out.

(Colbert has openly admitted in interviews that he was delighted to discover he could reduce his coworker to incoherent giggles with the right eyebrow waggle. He does it entirely on purpose. Stewart lets him.)

The speech wanders from the professional into the very personal when Colbert tells him that not only are they better at their jobs from having watched him do his, but they're better people for having known him. Stewart concentrates fiercely on his pen. When it's over and they throw to commercial, everybody rushes in to hug him and each other and the ineffable process of making the show, but Stewart lunges for his friend, and buries his face in the shoulder of Colbert's suit. He clings. I imagine it took him quite a while to get a hold of himself so he could come back and deliver the next few monologues to camera, his parting advice for the cast and the crew and the audience who grew up watching him angrily mock the news.

That's exactly why I keep doing it, I thought. This is why I keep watching other people lean in and reach for each other's hands and throw subtext banter back and forth. This is why I keep trying to tell other people exactly what I think of them. Because if you pay enough attention, you realize that every once in a while, you run into someone who changes the world in a thousand ways, large and small, and really has no idea. If you choose your words well enough, and you keep trying, you can get them to grasp, just for a second, their own value.

I never could get it to work very well. The person you're talking to has to hold you in some esteem, or at least affection, for any of it to land right. Stewart clearly puts a lot of stock in what Colbert thinks. My opinion, people don't care about so much.

I worry from time to time that my efforts to cope with life and give my existence some sort of meaning are making me into a terrible self-absorbed person. Who the hell runs into a thing like this and immediately thinks of themselves? I like to believe one of my few saving graces is that I am still genuinely happy when I see someone else make that monologue work like I can't. I am glad that moments like this at least exist for others. Someone has to get through.

Stewart is about twenty years older than I am. One of his many, many collisions with the Law of Unintended Consequences has been that he's leveraged his fame and his reputation as a loud-mouthed eccentric iconoclast to get away with things like tears and irreverent laughter and open affection and deep, angry compassion and just talking about a lot of things like they were perfectly normal. I started college the same year he started being the Adult Who Read Sporked The News. There were plenty of things on that show that the cast played for sheer audacity. If Jon Stewart could sit there and sport-flirt with George Clooney like it was silly instead of shocking, then clearly it was no big deal, and if someone thought it was, they were the ones being strange. He refused to excuse or justify interacting with other humans like that, and now the generation who grew up watching him doesn't have to.

I can guess why he chose to retire. The past few years have aged him a lot. His monologues have been getting less sort of hopefully exasperated and more just furious for a while now. Too many terrible things in too few years that he hasn't been able to make a dent in. Someday that'll turn around and words will make a difference again, but it would be a shame if he burnt out before then. The media landscape won't be quite the same without him, but I think it's smart of him to let go while he can still choose to, before he is eventually forced to for the sake of his sanity. In the pre-show Q&A he says he'll inevitably go back to stand-up, and I'd expect more writing, since he can do that while still spending a lot more time at home with his family. And he's apparently bought a chunk of land in New Jersey with plans for an animal sanctuary, which will keep him usefully busy.

Comments

  1. "I should have realized I was going to end up crying."

    For similar reasons as you, I made the same mistake.

    ReplyDelete

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