Jon Stewart's final Daily Show: Political, Hollywood heavyweights say goodbyes
Hillary Clinton, John McCain, John Kerry make video appearances to bid host farewell
Jon Stewart said goodbye to The Daily Show on Thursday, as America's foremost satirist of politicians and the media was ushered out with a reunion of the many colleagues that he worked with during 16 years as host.
"Guess what? Stewart said at the show's opening. "I've got big news. This is it."
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For his finale, he pretended to report on Thursday's Republican presidential debate — which actually happened after the taping — but said he didn't have enough remaining correspondents to talk about all the candidates. That proved to be the vehicle to bring in a long succession of personalities whose careers were jump-started by Stewart when they were on the show, like Aasif Mandvi, Lewis Black, Stephen Colbert, Steve Carell, Rob Corddry, Samantha Bee and Kristen Schaal.
He'd been away from the show for more than a decade, but Carell said that "becoming an international superstar is just something I did while awaiting my next assignment."
Also among the former correspondents who showed up for the final show was Wyatt Cenac. He had said he wasn't sure he would attend after revealing on comedian Marc Maron's podcast last month that he had a falling out with Stewart when he left the show. Cenac and Stewart played up the drama for comedic effect with an awkward conversation via video link.
Colbert, who begins in September as David Letterman's replacement on CBS' Late Show, offered the most heartfelt tribute, saying the accomplishments of Stewart's troupe members through the years was a testament to the example he set.
"You were infuriatingly good at your job," Colbert said.
Stewart offered a soliloquy on what was his central job as host — finding doubletalk in the public arena and exposing it for the world to see, although he used a stronger term for it. He urged viewers to be vigilant in watching for it themselves.
"If you smell something, say something," he said.
Clinton, Kerry make cameos
Stewart, 52, announced last winter that he was getting restless and it was time to move on. Trevor Noah replaces him as host next month. Noah made a brief appearance on the show — in a gag, he began measuring Stewart's desk while Stewart was still in his chair.
Political heavyweights — many of whom have been skewered by Stewart for years — also said their goodbyes to the host. In video messages, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, John McCain, Rahm Emanuel and others poked fun at the host, saying they wouldn't be missing him.
Springsteen was the 'moment of zen'
Fellow New Jersey resident Bruce Springsteen provided Stewart's last "moment of Zen." He performed Land of Hope and Dreams at the host's request, and then Born to Run, with guests clustered around like it was the band at a high school dance.
Springsteen inspired Stewart to follow his own career dreams, and also Thursday's farewell. Stewart said he admired how the songwriter described his career as an ongoing conversation with his fans.
"Rather than saying 'goodbye' or 'good night,' I'm just going to say, 'I'm going to get a drink, and I'm sure I'll see you guys before I leave,"' Stewart said.
Ending was 'fantastic'
Armed with a razor-sharp wit and research team adept at finding video evidence of hypocrisy or unintentional comedy among the nation's establishment, Stewart turned a sleepy basic-cable entertainment show into a powerful cultural platform. Those who scored a ticket to the 6 p.m. taping were sworn to secrecy.
"From start to finish, it was fantastic," said audience member Randy Gunnell, 29, of Westchester, N.Y. "It was emotional, people crying all over the place."
The ending was an unusual one, said Michelle Light, who also was in the audience.
"It was definitely not a regular show. It was not at all the show where you are going to see all the headline news and he's doing his normal shtick," said Light, of New York. "They sort of hinted and gave you a nibble ... and then it was on to everything else to sort of commemorate this last moment."
Colbert, Letterman also signing off
It's the third major farewell for a late-night television personality in eight months. Stewart's Comedy Central colleague, Colbert, ended The Colbert Report in December. David Letterman signed off from CBS in May, to be replaced this fall by Colbert.
Comedy Central put out the word that Stewart's final show will run longer than the typical half hour, so people recording it on their DVRs won't be unpleasantly surprised.
Fox News Channel chairman Roger Ailes, whose network remained intact despite Stewart's "pulverizing" blows, said that Stewart was a brilliant comedian and nice guy who has a bitter view of the world.
"He's been after us for years," Ailes told The Hollywood Reporter. "Occasionally we pay attention. We think he's funny. We never took it seriously and he never made a dent in us."
With files from CBC News