Gelman: Jon Stewart more than just a comedy act


Max Gelman, Columnist

Late Tuesday afternoon, reports on Twitter surfaced that Jon Stewart, host of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” since 1999, will retire sometime later this year. Comedy Central confirmed the reports a short while later, and Stewart announced his retirement at the end of Tuesday night’s show. TV will be losing more than just an admired comedian. TV will be losing an icon.

In today’s age of increasingly political polarization, cable news shouting matches and the constant demeaning of millennials, most young Americans find it difficult to relate to or be interested in politics. There’s so much crap out there that sometimes we just don’t bother trying to make sense of it all. Everything is presented in black and white — or, maybe more accurately, blue and red — and if you don’t agree with something you are automatically painted as a traitor.

Jon Stewart gave viewers a way to cut through all the idiocy and to focus on what really mattered when it came to current events. From criticism of Fox News’s conservative ideologies to the Keystone XL Pipeline, from CNN’s fear-mongering to President Obama’s ambassadorships, Stewart always had something to say. And, somewhat surprisingly, people would listen. According to his biography on Comedy Central’s website, “the overwhelming majority of men and women under the age of 35 list ‘The Daily Show’ as their primary source of television news.”

I say it’s surprising that people take Stewart seriously because, by nature, he is a comedian. Doesn’t millions of Americans watching a comedy show for news seem a little strange?

Ever since television began expanding in the 1980s, when channels like MTV and ESPN started to become mainstream, viewership of news programs has been on the decline. People choose what they want to watch and tune out what they don’t want to hear. Instead of watching Walter Cronkite, who was famously nicknamed “The Most Trusted Man in America,” tell the news objectively each and every night, Americans listen to cable news commentators, pundits and analysts putting their own spin on the day’s events. There isn’t a Cronkitian presence on today’s television. Arguably the closest thing we had to Cronkite 2.0 was “NBC Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams, but NBC suspended him on Tuesday for his false comments about the Iraq War and Hurricane Katrina.

The lack of such a trustworthy newscaster results in people turning to the channels that broadcast the opinions they agree with, including the especially left-leaning “Daily Show.” However, Stewart has never been afraid to go after Democrats as well as Republicans. Leading up to the 2014 midterm elections, he skewered Democrats for abandoning Obama and for acting like deer in headlights. Stewart’s mockery of the media, our elected officials and the election-buying Koch brothers helps Americans relate to the turmoil that exists in today’s political landscape. Without him, we’re left to fend off the inundation of cable news stupidity and sleazy politicians by ourselves.

I’m not saying that Stewart aspired to be the voice for a generation, simply that his wit is so relevant to our everyday lives that we treat him like one. When Jon Stewart leaves “The Daily Show,” television will lose one of the best fake newscasters in history.

Max Gelman is a Medill freshman. He can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].