Here’s the lesson Jon Stewart has taught me about the world: just because you can laugh at something doesn’t mean you don’t care about it; quite the opposite, in fact. Finding the humor in a world of serious bleakness is, for a new generation of thinkers, a way to cut through the façade of hopelessness and tragedy and find the humanity beneath it all. Stewart’s brand of political satire wasn’t apathetic or disrespectful—it was passionate, it was hilarious, it was enlightened, and now, it’s going to be passed on to new hands. It’s the end of a 15-year era—and it’s making me feel pretty damn old.
Steve Carrel, Ed Helms, John Oliver, Stephen Colbert, Olivia Munn: these are a few of the massive stars who started out as correspondents on The Daily Show. But even more than the talent he’s discovered, we owe Stewart for the entire genre of satire news as a serious and influential medium: for Stephen Colbert’s lovably bigoted fake conservative anchor; for John Oliver’s poignant interactive quasi-journalism on Last Week Tonight; and even for foreign versions of the program, like Egypt’s Bassem Youssef, who brought the Middle East a witty skepticism that it desperately needed. Stewart used his sharp wit and massive audience to bring attention to issues that otherwise might have been drowned out by the loud blaring of cable sensationalism. Stewart’s too humble to admit it, but he is just as important a newscaster as any network anchor.
Cynicism can be a good thing! The world is a flashy, messy, overwhelming place, and it’s best to take it with a grain of salt. But we can’t sit above the world as it burns and point and laugh—there is no removing ourselves from the global struggles flashing across our televisions. Jon Stewart’s journalism, fake or not, was about getting involved and digging deeper to find solutions that made sense. His side-splitting coverage of sober issues reminded all of us not to take ourselves so seriously–not in an effort to engender indifference but to open our minds to improvement. Ridicule is the first step to progress.
So here’s my “Moment of Zen”: Stewart isn’t leaving quite yet—he estimates his final show will aire sometime between July and September—but when he does, more than just one person will replace him at the desk. An entire generation of news consumers, we among them, will live our lives with Stewart’s message embedded in our psyches. And, I think, the world will be better for it.