NEW YORK (AP) – Jon Stewart said goodbye to “The Daily Show” on Thursday, America’s foremost satirist of politicians and the media ushered out with a reunion of the many colleagues that he worked with during 16 years as host.
“Guess what? Stewart said at the show’s opening. “I’ve got big news. This is it.”
He began by pretending to report on Thursday’s Republican presidential debate – which actually happened after the taping – but said he didn’t have enough remaining correspondents to talk about all the candidates. There followed a long succession of personalities, like Aasif Mandvi, John Hodgman, Steve Carell and more, who had gotten their starts at Comedy Central.
He’d been away from the show for more than a decade, but Carell said that “becoming an international superstar is just something I did while awaiting my next assignment.”
Stewart, 52, announced last winter that he was getting restless and it was time to move on. Trevor Noah replaces him as host next month.
Armed with a razor-sharp wit and research team adept at finding video evidence of hypocrisy or unintentional comedy among the nation’s establishment, Stewart turned a sleepy basic-cable entertainment show into a powerful cultural platform. Those who scored a ticket to the 6 p.m. taping were sworn to secrecy.
“From start to finish, it was fantastic,” said audience member Randy Gunnell, 29, of Westchester, New York. “It was emotional, people crying all over the place.”
Stewart was joined by former correspondent Stephen Colbert. And Bruce Springsteen, who’s appeared on the show multiple times, played a set.
The ending was an unusual one, said Michelle Light who also was in the audience.
“It was definitely not a regular show. It was not at all the show where you are going to see all the headline news and he’s doing his normal shtick,” said Light, of New York. “They sort of hinted and gave you a nibble … and then it was on to everything else to sort of commemorate this last moment.”
Stewart had spent years skewering the nation’s establishment, but had turned the spotlight on himself during his penultimate show Wednesday, noting how institutions he had supposedly eviscerated were stronger than ever.
“The world is demonstrably worse than when I started,” Stewart wailed. “Have I caused this?”
His only solace was that his beloved New York Mets were in first place on the day of his last show.
Fellow comic Louis C.K., his guest Wednesday, noted that Stewart was able to keep his show fresh and funny for a long time, keeping up with the world’s changes. “It really is one of the great comedy accomplishments of all time,” he said.
A line of people hoping to get in to the taping gathered outside of the Comedy Central studio on Manhattan’s far West Side. First in line was Chad Lance, a 27-year-old musician from Philadelphia who said he arrived at 2:30 a.m., who said he couldn’t wait to see what happened.
“No one knows who’s going to come, no one knows what’s going to happen,” he said. “I think this is going to be one of the most exciting TV tapings ever.”
Twenty-one-year-old Jessica Vitovitch was anxiously waiting to see if she’d get a seat.
“I think Stewart has contributed so much to the political consciousness, especially … my generation,” she said. “For this to be his finale, it’s a huge cultural moment.”
Stewart’s fans will be forced to navigate the first presidential election since 1996 without his commentary, a loss that felt particularly acute with Thursday’s GOP debate.
It’s the third major farewell for a late-night television personality in eight months. Stewart’s Comedy Central colleague, Stephen Colbert, ended “The Colbert Report” in December. David Letterman signed off from CBS in May, to be replaced this fall by Colbert.
Comedy Central put out the word that Stewart’s final show will run longer than the typical half hour, so people recording it on their DVRs won’t be unpleasantly surprised.
Fox News Channel chairman Roger Ailes, whose network remained intact despite Stewart’s “pulverizing” blows, said that Stewart was a brilliant comedian and nice guy who has a bitter view of the world.
“He’s been after us for years,” Ailes told The Hollywood Reporter. “Occasionally we pay attention. We think he’s funny. We never took it seriously and he never made a dent in us.”
With thousands of words in tributes being written on his behalf the past few weeks, Stewart hasn’t granted exit interviews. He showed up for a podcast done by his show’s executive producers, spending most of the half hour talking about the menus for catered meals at the office – including a lengthy discussion of whether egg sandwiches were better on English muffins or Kaiser rolls.
“We worked awfully hard and not every show has been up to snuff,” Stewart said Wednesday. “But we’ve given it our all every single time.”
Associated Press reporter Luqman Adeniyi contributed to this report.
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