Jon Stewart returned Monday night as host of “The Daily Show,” the Comedy Central satire he turned into a cultural force before leaving in August 2015. It was the start of a plan, announced in January, which will bring Stewart back to the Monday show until the presidential election. He will also serve as executive producer.
“Why am I back?” he said. “I have committed a lot of crimes. From what I understand, talk show hosts get immunity. It doesn’t make much sense, but it needs to be discussed with the founders.”
Stewart’s first night back found him grayer — at one point he used his own shriveled face as a prop in a joke about the ages of presidential candidates. But it was otherwise in classic form.
Opening with “Now Where Was I,” Stewart mixed absurdist, often self-deprecating jokes with righteous indignation as he launched the 2024 edition of one of the series’ iconic franchises, its cover electoral “Indecision”. Proposed titles, he said, include “Indecision 2024: American Democracy”; “Indecision 2024: Electile dysfunction”; and “Indecision 2024: Antiques Roadshow”. He discussed, from his familiar left-wing perspective, the Super Bowl and the Taylor Swift conspiracy theories surrounding it.
“It’s almost as if the right’s ridiculous obsession with politicizing every aspect of American life is ruining everything,” he said.
He later anchored a bit that found the show’s correspondents Ronny Chieng, Desi Lydic, Michael Kosta and Dulce Sloan reporting from the same restaurant, a goof on the trope of campaign coverage. They and Jordan Klepper, who has done some office work, will take turns hosting the show Tuesday through Thursday. The guest was Zanny Minton Beddoes, editor of The Economist.
“The Daily Show” released its opening segment on its YouTube feed just before it aired on Comedy Central.
In a sense, Stewart is the latest in a line of celebrity replacements who have hosted “The Daily Show” since Trevor Noah’s departure in December 2022. Of course, Stewart is the person who, for more than 16 years as host, transformed “The Daily Show”. Daily Show” in the most vital and influential late-night program.
A pop culture snark fest led by its original host, Craig Kilborn, “The Daily Show” became a topical satire after Stewart took over in 1999, and it became a news source for part of its audience, although Stewart maintained that its main aim was to entertain, not to inform. It was also a prolific talent incubator: alumni, including Stephen Colbert, John Oliver, Samantha Bee and Hasan Minhaj, went on to host their own shows. Others, like Steve Carell, Ed Helms and Jessica Williams, have found success in Hollywood.
Another former “Daily Show” correspondent, Noah, succeeded Stewart as host. But the show’s ratings and awareness have declined, part of a general decline in the cultural relevance of late-night shows in the streaming era. At the same time, Stewart’s professional efforts after the “Daily Show” were lackluster. A deal to develop an animated current affairs show for HBO went nowhere, and his talk show for Apple TV+, “The Problem With Jon Stewart,” ended last year after 20 episodes when Stewart and Apple executives disagreed over the creative direction of the series.
There was perhaps a subtle reference to Stewart’s previous work on “The Daily Show” Monday night. “We’re going to have so much to talk about this year,” he said. “The elections, we will perhaps talk about China, AI, something a little lighter, Israel-Palestine.” Artificial intelligence and China are two of the topics that have created friction on “The Problem.”
“The Problem” never had much success, aside from generating a few viral interview clips and receiving an Emmy nomination last year for outstanding variety talk series. Ironically, this award went to “The Daily Show,” the only time the Noah version won. Stewart’s “Daily Show” won the award for outstanding variety series 10 times in a row, from 2003 to 2012.
In an interview on “CBS Mornings” Monday, Stewart said he was returning to the “Daily Show” because he wanted a platform during the election.
“I really wanted to have some sort of place to vent my thoughts going into this election season, and I thought I was going to do it on, as they call it, Apple TV+,” he said . However, he added, “they thought they didn’t want me to say things that might get me in trouble.”
He continued: “I just wondered: Who better to comment on this election than someone who really understands two aging men who are past their prime?