I vaguely remember my older brothers watching the Daily Show with Craig Kilborn in the late 90s but was too young to understand it. When Jon Stewart took over, I was still too detached from politics to care.
It wasn’t until September 20, 2001 that I truly understood the power of the show and, more importantly, the power of Jon Stewart. After 9/11, I hid from the news. I was scared but I was also bored. The 24 hour news cycle made me numb and jaded to the coverage so I hid in reruns of Spongebob Squarepants on Nickelodeon and stand-up specials on Comedy Central. Viacom did a great job of providing distractions for me in one of the darkest moments of our country’s history.
Then Jon came back on air. He defied the perpetrators of the attack to challenge our resolve. He took the pulpit he was given and made us feel whole again, even if for the 3 minutes he spoke directly to camera with 9 sleepless nights lying just beneath his eyes. He, like us, was past crying. He showed that the well from which we draw our strength is deeper than the well from which we draw our tears. He made me realize life could be normal again. He helped put into perspective the freedoms we have and exercise without a second though. He made me prouder to be an American than any ribbon magnet or window flag.
After that moment, I began reading political satire religiously. I abhorred the political status quo to such a level my AP US History teacher wrote a note on one of my papers imploring me to “not be so cynical about the government” while the Bush presidency offered me every excuse to do so.
Because of Jon Stewart, I became a student of the media and consumed as much as I could, especially in the wake of public tragedies. I wrote my college thesis about the use of humor after 9-11, using Stewart’s monologue as a starting point to pick apart The Onion, Collegehumor, and Bill Maher’s responses. In grad school, I studied media responses to disasters and the use of alternative media as a means of public diplomacy. None of this would happen without a brief monologue from an exhausted Jon Stewart letting us know everything was going to be okay.
If you want to honor Jon Stewart, don’t mourn his departure. Continue his legacy. Inform yourself and use whatever channels at your disposal to inform others.