Jon Stewart returned Monday night as host of “The Daily Show,” the Comedy Central news satire he turned into a cultural force before leaving in August 2015. It was the beginning of a plan, announced in January, that will bring Stewart back to the show on Mondays through the presidential election. He will also serve as an executive producer.
“Why am I back?” he said. “I have committed a lot of crimes. From what I understand, talk show hosts are granted immunity — it doesn’t make a lot of sense, but take it up with the founders.”
Stewart’s first night back found him grayer — at one point he used his own wizened face as a prop in a joke about the presidential candidates’ ages. But he was otherwise in classic form.
Opening with “Now where was I,” Stewart mixed silliness and absurd, often self-deprecating jokes with righteous indignation as he kicked off the 2024 edition of one of the show’s signature franchises, its “Indecision” election coverage. Proposed titles, he said, included “Indecision 2024: American Demockracy”; “Indecision 2024: Electile Dysfunction”; and “Indecision 2024: Antiques Roadshow.” He riffed, from his familiar left-leaning perspective, on the Super Bowl and the Taylor Swift conspiracy theories that surrounded it.
“It’s almost like the right’s ridiculous obsession with politicizing every aspect of American life ruins everything,” he said.
Later he anchored a bit that found the show’s correspondents Ronny Chieng, Desi Lydic, Michael Kosta and Dulce Sloan reporting from the same diner, a goof on the campaign coverage trope. They and Jordan Klepper, who did a desk bit, will take turns hosting the show Tuesdays through Thursdays. The guest was Zanny Minton Beddoes, editor-in-chief of The Economist.
“The Daily Show” posted his opening segment on its YouTube feed just before it aired on Comedy Central.
In one sense, Stewart is the latest in a line of celebrity fill-ins who have hosted “The Daily Show” since Trevor Noah left in December 2022. Of course, Stewart is the person who, over 16 years as host, transformed “The Daily Show” into late-night’s most vital and influential program.
A pop culture snark-fest under its original host, Craig Kilborn, “The Daily Show” evolved into a topical satire after Stewart took over in 1999, and it became a news source for portions of its audience, even as Stewart maintained that his primary goal was to entertain, not inform. It was also a prolific talent incubator: Alumni including Stephen Colbert, John Oliver, Samantha Bee and Hasan Minhaj went on to host their own shows. Others, like Steve Carell, Ed Helms and Jessica Williams, found success in Hollywood.
It was another former “Daily Show” correspondent, Noah, who succeeded Stewart as host. But the show’s ratings and profile declined, part of a general downturn in the cultural relevance of late-night shows in the streaming age. At the same time, Stewart’s own post-“Daily Show” professional efforts have been lackluster. A deal to develop a topical animated show for HBO went nowhere, and his talk show for Apple TV+, “The Problem With Jon Stewart,” ended last year after 20 episodes when Stewart and Apple executives disagreed over the show’s creative direction.
There was perhaps a subtle reference to Stewart’s previous job on “The Daily Show” on Monday night. “We’re going to have so much we’re going to talk about this year,” he said. “Obviously, the elections, maybe we’ll talk about China, maybe we’ll talk about AI, maybe something a little lighter, Israel-Palestine.” Artificial intelligence and China were two of the subjects that created friction at “The Problem.”
“The Problem” never got much traction, aside from generating a few viral interview clips and receiving an Emmy nomination last year for outstanding variety talk series. In a twist, that award went instead to “The Daily Show,” the only time the Noah version won. Stewart’s “Daily Show” won the award for outstanding variety series award 10 times in a row, from 2003 to 2012.
In an interview on “CBS Mornings” on Monday, Stewart said he is returning to “The Daily Show” because he wants a platform during the election.
“I very much wanted to have some kind of place to unload thoughts as we get into this election season, and I thought I was going to do it over at, they call it, Apple TV+,” he said. However, he added, “they felt that they didn’t want me to say things that might get me in trouble.”
He went on: “I just thought, who better to comment on this election than someone who truly understands two aging men past their prime?”
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