Jon Stewart, Meet Me At Camera Three

Like many fans and critics, I’ve been preemptively nostalgic about the impending end of Jon Stewart’s tenure on The Daily Show. When Jon announced his retirement, I was astonished and moved. From my adolescence until now, Jon Stewart and The Daily Show was a constant, a salvo, an adult version of a bed-time story. Particularly in the Bush years, but equally today, it has been an oasis of sanity in an ever-darkening geopolitical climate and an ever-sensationalized media landscape.

For someone who came of voting age just eleven months after 9/11 and who came into the workforce during the Great Recession, it has been reassuring to hear a voice of truth and humor cutting through the bullshit and the darkness and telling me: “You’re not alone. There is still sanity somewhere. As long as we all know this is fucked up, and we acknowledge it, all is not lost.”  I’ve lived in red states, blue states, purple states, and blaze orange cheesehead states. I’ve lived in a socialist country, a former Capital of the Confederacy, the Big Apple, and the People’s Republic of Madison. Jon Stewart kept me centered through it all and reminded me that I was not alone as a Jew, a progressive, a skeptic, an educator, a nerd, a lover of nuance, and an aficionado of dick jokes.

I started watching The Daily Show with my dad in 1998, when we got cable and Comedy Central for the first time. My father, the funniest and smartest man I’ve ever known personally, was channel surfing for some late-night stand-up and instead found a young comedian in a big suit with a Carlinesque wit. The Daily Show became an instant household habit, overtaking The Tonight Show, the nightly news, and even SNL’s Weekend Update in our esteem. The madcap antics of the Stephens (Carell and Colbert) and the other correspondents during the hanging chads of Indecision 2000 had us hooked. I remember thinking John McCain was cool because he was willing to joke around with Jon and Stephen Colbert at the New Hampshire primary (McCain, what happened?!). My dad was a Catholic atheist, and my mom a Jewish agnostic, so my family especially enjoyed Colbert’s “This Week in God” segments and Lewis Black’s rants about the “War on Christmas.” I identified with little things like when Jon asked Israel or Iran tomeet me at camera three” for a personal appeal/take-down or remarked during an interview: “I’m Jewish, and my wife’s Catholic. We’re raising our children to be sad.”

In college, especially during the War in Iraq and Indecision 2004, my classmates and I crowded around the TV in the dorm lounge to watch Jon every night. We would usually talk politics and joke around afterwards, ignoring Crank Yankers or whatever bullshit Colin Quinn show filled the 11:30 slot in the years before The Colbert Report. During Spring Break in 2004, my roommate and I introduced her parents to The Daily Show, and both her liberal mom and conservative dad became regular viewers of what they called “the Funny News.”

When I moved to France after college in 2006, discovering Daily Show episodes at Comedy Central online felt like a small miracle (streaming was still pretty new then). Jon Stewart was my cure for homesickness, where I turned to find out what was really going on back home. It was worth all the buffering and watching the same Chevy commercial ad nauseum to hear Jon joke about the man who apologized to Dick Cheney for being shot in the face by Dick Cheney, or try fruitlessly to convince Bill O’Reilly that a stuffed teddy bear he’d offered him was definitely without a doubt NOT a panda bear, or hone his spot-on George W. Bush chortle.

Several of my French colleagues eagerly professed to me their love of Jon Stewart, as if confirming their proud membership in a secret, international club. For them, if I was a Jon-Stewart-style-American, then I must be OK. I must be a rational, thoughtful, balanced, healthily skeptical, 21st century American– not like the gun-toting consumer of Freedom Fries, the Mormon sister-wives, the Amish school-shooter, or the cowboy president featured so heavily in French news media at the time. These were the darkest days of the War in Iraq, when I preferred to hear George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld on the French news because at least their overconfident, misleading, folksy, swaggering speeches about “smoking out evil-doers” sounded more sophisticated dubbed in French.

My personal life was unsettled as well. I’d just started my first job out of college, teaching middle school English with no training whatsoever. I was living on my own in a foreign country, renting a tiny apartment from an eccentric, racist landlady. She certainly was shocked when I began dating an Algerian Muslim grad student!  We were falling in love, but I agonized over our long-term prospects and compatibility. Was I concerned because he was Muslim and I was Jewish? Because his family lived in Algeria and mine in Wisconsin? Because my French wasn’t yet good enough to win arguments against him? Nope. I wasn’t worried about any of that. The existential fear that tormented my young heart was: “What if he can’t understand Jon Stewart? Our relationship is doomed!!!”

American satire was so important in my family, to my sense of self and of humor, that The Daily Show became a litmus test for my friends and lovers. Liking Jon Stewart was a sign that someone shared my American values: absolute free speech, informed skepticism, talking truth to power, standing up for the rights of women, minorities, LGBT folks, and the “little guy”–yet not above making Arby’s diarrhea jokes, covering “cooter racing,” or shooting a segment from the point of view of Ed Helms’ balls. I couldn’t imagine spending my life with someone who couldn’t watch Jon Stewart and laugh with me every night before bed.

Cultural differences aside, we got married in 2010 and moved to New York. And there came a day in 2011 when my husband laughed out loud at The Daily Show without me having to translate a joke into French or explain some cultural eccentricity first. I believe it was Jon’s impression of Senator Mitch McConnell as the Looney Toons Turtle. Pretty soon, my husband was eagerly awaiting Jon’s coverage of the Arab Spring, the 2011 Wisconsin State Capital protests, Hurricane Sandy, and Aasif Mandvi’s hilarious reports on race and religion in America. When Jon Stewart took time off to make Rosewater and appeared on Bassem Youssef’s Egyptian Daily Show, Al-Bernameg, it was my husband’s turn to translate for me.

This past February, my husband was studying for his U.S. Citizenship & Naturalization exam. Quizzing him from the study guide, I asked: “Who is the speaker of the House of Representatives?” He replied without missing a beat: “Orange Face! John Boehner! And the majority leader of the Senate is McConnell, the Turtle-Man.” There really is no better American civics education, nor a better test of American cultural fluency, than The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. I no longer worry about our compatibility as a couple, culturally or comedically.

So in lieu of sweeping commentary about the end of an era or this wider cultural moment, let me just end with a personal thank you from an anonymous fan.

Jon Stewart, please meet me at camera three:

Thank you, Jon, for being part of my political and comic education dating back to the first presidential campaign I closely followed, Indecision 2000, for making my father laugh so hard every night he spit out his toothpaste, and for showing my Algerian husband the true meaning of free speech in a free society. Even when our leaders abused power or failed to live up to our ideals, you were there to pull back the veil on the hypocrisy, the propaganda, and the chronic tools of oppression used by regimes the world over.  Just by bearing witness and poking fun, you remind me and my husband that America’s strength lies in the voices of its people and in the ability of sane, rational people to see each other’s humanity. Other jesters may come and go, but none will hold court like you, Jon Stewart.

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50 Comments

Filed under essay, travel

50 responses to “Jon Stewart, Meet Me At Camera Three

  1. found this via “freshly pressed”.
    One of my favourite moments was the “Fidelio”-scene, when the whole team stepped up and out onto the roof after the Bush-spook was over. “…discovering Daily Show episodes at Comedy Central online felt like a small miracle (streaming was still pretty new then). Jon Stewart was my cure for homesickness…” – since we’d moved to Berlin some years ago, that’s exactly how we felt, too.
    Thanks for a great tribute!

  2. Great read. I honestly can’t think of another person alive today who inspired me as much as Jon Stewart. He helped teach a generation to not blindly believe what they were told and if you don’t agree with something it’s more than okay to say so. It’s been a little over a month and late night just isn’t the same. Hopefully Colbert’s new show can help ease the void..

    • This sounds like it was a good show. I guess I’ll have to get a television now, if I want to be in on the reruns.

      Just kidding! Jon is smart and funny and we’ll be hearing from him, almost certainly.

      “I was born with an adult head and a tiny body. Like a ‘Peanuts’ character.”

      Gotta love him.

  3. What a great yarn! He definitely will be missed. I love the part about “We’re raising our children to be sad.” Hahahaha

  4. 5oh9

    I loved his debate with Bill O’Reilly in the rumble…..he’s an amazing sharp witted conscientious individual….am sure he won’t sit idle….he will itch his way back into satire!

  5. Thanks for this. You wrote well the sentiments many of us feel over the loss of the Daily Show. I’ve been grieving.

  6. Great piece! Indeed, Stewart’s impact on the world is almost immeasurable. The way he handled all these important events made us followers at a distance (Costa Rica) well aware of both ends of the spectrum.

  7. Hi,
    I loved your article. It was beautifully written. I loved how you juxtaposed your life alongside the history of Jon Stewart show. Due to my professional and personal obligations, I never even had a chance to watch one episode, and now he’s gone. Thank you for letting me know my instincts were correct. I would have loved his show. Seriously, send this to him; I believe it will make him feel great. Nice to meet you.
    Janice

  8. james soliz

    I liked him before he got dramatic.

  9. What are we going to do without Jon Stewart to put us to bed laughing each night???

  10. sachinkumarbhati

    😃

  11. I really enjoyed reading this post, especially the role Jon played in your relationship. It’s truly the end of an era and I’m nervous and anxious to see what comes next.

  12. I will miss Jon Stewart too. I learned a lot from him and I loved the interviews he did. It must have been amazing to meet all those people!

  13. thepassersbytravelblog

    Just moved to Richmond. It still thinks it’s the capital of the confederacy. 😐

    • Darcy

      Yup, it is and always will be. I really liked living in Richmond when I was a kid– I learned so much history from various sites and monuments in Richmond and throughout Virginia and D.C. But despite Virginia’s shifting political demographics, Richmond is still definitely a very Southern city.

  14. Jolie Mason

    I’m so going to miss that man in that capacity.

  15. Excellent post! I know our household will miss him so much!

  16. I wrote about this on one of my blogs as well. Jon Stewart is a hero for me. From the moment I found him in college, I’ve relied on him to translate the news for me in a digestible form and to give me hope that we can save this country. He’s also been responsible for so many comics’ careers, incluging Colbert, Larry Wilmore, and my favorite Jon Oliver, that his legacy will probably be felt for years after his tenure on the show. To say the least, we’re going to miss him greatly.

    I’m not sure what Trevor Noah will be like as host, but I know I’m looking forward to seeing how he handles those big shoes he’s filling in for. But if Jon thought he was good enough for the job, I think we can trust him to give us our Daily Show dose of sanity.

    I wonder though, will he do the Turtle impression for Mitch McConnell?

    • Darcy

      I have high hopes for Trevor Noah too. This sounds so hipster, but I was fan of his standup even before he was announced to host the Daily Show. I doubt he’ll do the Turtle impression quite so well though!

  17. This is a GREAT tribute to Jon Stewart! Thank you for sharing it! 🙂

  18. Classic post and one that most our age can certainly identify with!

  19. agesgist

    Reblogged this on agesgist.

  20. What a powerfully written piece!

  21. Nice tribute.Unfortunately we don’t have anything as good in the UK nearly as good as the Daily Show (since Chris Morris left TV anyway). John Oliver’s show pretty good though and has very diverse subjects; but JS will always be king for me. Hopefully he’ll keep up with the satire. Fox News would be pretty hilarious by itself if it wasn’t so frightening.

    • Darcy

      I am a big John Oliver fan too. I enjoy his longer-format and more international focus. I hope this isn’t the last we’ll see of Jon Stewart and that, as he said in his last show, the conversation will continue!

  22. Although quite a bit older than you, and not discovering Jon until the mid 2000’s, I feel all of your emotion and your thankfulness that Jon and the Daily Show became a part of my cultural experience. Don’t know what I will do with Jon and Stephen gone from a network that encouraged their truthiness. Time to act my age and go to bed earlier, I guess. I do wish people like Jon would enter politics and cut through all the bullshit.

  23. There have been many blogs dedicated to Jon Stewart, I myself am doing on; yours is the best I’ve read so far. I can relate to this story and picture all the episodes you addressed.

  24. That was beautiful! I hope you’re happy, you made an old man cry. Thank you…

  25. Man this post almost made me cry. I also love John Stewart and what he stands for even if he pokes fun at my religion quiet a bit. And to be honest I really don’t want him to go anywhere all though I’m aware the circle of life must continue, but can’t he just be immortal for me?

    To you I loved this post, every word seemed perfect to me, and in place. poking at my very heart I loved it. Thank you for sharing. 🙂

  26. Thoughtful, tender, and cleverly written (Jon would be so proud – although he probably could not look you in the eye). I, too, will miss him terribly.

  27. I cried my eyes out watching his last show. I did the same for Colbert’s finale. I’m so glad I got to experience them both at their zenith.

    All I’ve got left now is John Oliver and Bill Maher. Somehow, I’ll have to make those two days of comedic relief and truth stretch out over an entire week.

    It may be the time to take up drinking.

  28. Jon Stewart helped me through the Bush Jr years, too. I loved his coverage on police brutality.

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