I grew up on “The Daily Show” — coming from a conservative small town, Jon Stewart was, to me, a voice of reason, and he provided a welcome counterbalance to Bill O’Reilly barking across the living room every afternoon when I came home from school.
Like many people my age, “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” were my only news sources and quickly shaped my worldview. I even adopted Stewart’s signature cynical incredulity when dealing with people who thought differently from me (who really just thought differently from Jon Stewart).
With Stewart’s absence during this particularly volatile election, there’s a desire for the same political skewering he gave us year-after-year. But should we really look for someone to fill his shoes?
Stewart may be gone, but he left many pale imitations in his wake. Trevor Noah tries his best to keep “The Daily Show” afloat by adhering to the singular brand Stewart created. Meanwhile, former “Daily Show” correspondents John Oliver and Samantha Bee took their twists on Jon Stewart’s formula to different networks.
It’s nothing new to suggest that the blind following of Stewart and his imitators is comparable to the uncritical Fox News viewers he mocked daily, but I think it’s always a valid point to bring up. Despite all the think-pieces we write, I’d argue we’re still a largely thoughtless and uncritical bunch. But Jon Stewart wasn’t, and I think that’s the piece that “The Daily Show” viewers vs. Fox News viewers comparison leaves out.
We’re not lazier today as a result of “The Daily Show” — we just used to have a smarter person doing our thinking for us. We’re so eager to fill “The Daily Show”-shaped void in our hearts that we validate shows like “Last Week Tonight” and “Full Frontal,” which embody “The Daily Show’s worst tendencies: ‘Clapter’ (the response of political jokes that aren’t actually funny, but the audience agrees with), and an often righteously indignant host.
Our love of “The Daily Show” also ruined “The Daily Show” itself, forcing new host Trevor Noah to satisfy our desires and give us a Jon Stewart-lite, for which we, in turn, relentlessly criticize him for. We even made “South Park” into a machine that spouts Reddit opinions through a crass filter and every week we make believe it’s revelatory.
However, despite our collective propensity of settling for less, we still complain about a lack of truly biting satire. But we don’t want just any biting satire, we want the same brand that we’ve grown accustomed to. It’s like we were broken up with and now we only date people who remind us of our ex.
To move forward, we either need to accept each person for who they are, or learn to be all right on our own.
For too long, we’ve ignored the true takeaway from “The Daily Show:” Think critically and ask questions. Perhaps it’s time we stop looking for another Jon Stewart and think for ourselves. Or more realistically, if even just a few of us thought for ourselves, we could add some truly new voices to the echo chamber.