One of the things that makes Jon Stewart so irreplaceable is how much he made himself replaceable. Except for on one issue.
The world is waiting to see how Trevor Noah will do when he replaces Jon Stewart in the news desk chair he occupied for the past 16 years. But the replacement has been a work in progress for Stewart. From the start, Stewart showcased correspondents who would go on to create their own shows that shared the same mission: using humor to inform audience about important stories demonstrating hypocrisy, dishonesty, racism, exploitation, bigotry and ignorance of politicians, the media, corporations, and powerful individuals. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart became, and The Daily Show with Trevor Noah will be, just one of a constellation of shows that are guided just as much be a sense of justice and empathy as by a sense of humor.
Stewart has always maintained that his politics are secondary to his comedy, “I’m a comedian first… My comedy is informed by an ideological background… But . . . I’m not an activist. I am a comedian,” he once said. But there are a number of times when he has explicitly dropped his comedic intentions and framing. Most recently, following the Charleston shooting in which a white supremacist killed nine African Americans at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church Church, Stewart was unable or unwilling to bring the funny to his opening monologue:
Maybe if I wasn’t nearing the end of the run or this wasn’t such a common occurrence, maybe I could have pulled out of the spiral, but I didn’t… So I honestly have nothing other than just sadness once again that we have to peer into the abyss of the depraved violence that we do to each other and the nexus of a just gaping racial wound that will not heal, yet we pretend it doesn’t exist… I’m confident, though, that by acknowledging it, by staring into that and seeing it for what it is, we still won’t do jack shit. Yeah. That’s us.
Stewart acknowledged his departure from the comedy monologues which usually start the show, finishing up by saying, “Sorry about no jokes.” He had similarly earnest responses to 9/11 and to the Tucson shooting in 2011, which injured 13 people including Gabby Giffords.