During his last-ever episode of The Daily Show, Jon Stewart comported himself with dignity and grace. That statement may sound a little trite and obvious until you consider that one of the most compelling things about Jon Stewart was that he could turn those qualities on and off like a light switch. During some of his best moments–think post 9/11–he appealed to viewers’ humanity and the importance of humor within it. During some of his other best moments, of course, he committed to “old Yiddish man” voices and went full goofball. Some of the most powerful images of his nearly 17-year run came from last night’s episode, though, during which Stephen Colbert made him dissolve into a tear-puddle. It was as moving as any exit in recent memory, and there are many.
After 2,600 episodes, and a final week that included appearances by heavy hitters like Tom Cruise and Louis CK, Stewart left us for an animal sanctuary on his new farm in Jersey with his family. (It’s just about the most good-guy retirement plan imaginable.) Rather than make brutal sport of the first official Republican debate of the 2016 election, Stewart’s final episode was a pure love-fest.
First, he bade goodbye to the team. As a fake-out, Stewart announced that the show was in fact reviewing the debate with “full-team coverage.” This team ended up extending far beyond current correspondents and ended up encapsulating many of the all-time greats and beyond. Deep cuts like Lewis Black, Nancy Walls, Dave Attell, and Matt Walsh showed up. The two movie stars Ed Helms and Steve Carrell came by, looking sharp. Former host, Craig Kilborn, and future host, Trevor Noah, both dropped in, the latter exploring the space with measuring tape.
The uncertainty going into the episode was whether Wyatt Cenac would show up. On a recent appearance on Marc Maron’s presidentially-approved WTF podcast, Cenac detailed some long-standing tensions between himself and Stewart, which were at the time not fully resolved. Not only did Cenac show up to the taping, he participated in a quiet nod toward his WTF appearance when he and Stewart asked each other, “You good?” which is a direct reference to Maron’s signature resolution lines.
Colbert brought up the rear of former correspondents, busting out a sweet, sincere speech that reduced Stewart to tears before the show cut out to its first commercial break (nearly 30 minutes in), at which point the whole gang in the studio came in for a jumping group hug.
Those correspondents weren’t the only ones who got in on the goodbyes, though. Politicians and pundits who have long borne the brunt of Stewart’s rapier wit appeared in pre-taped segments, and these included: Chris Christie, Lindsey Graham, Bill O’Reilly, and perhaps most giddily, John McCain, who operated a giant Jon Stewart puppet before signing off, “So, long, Jackass.”
Later on the episode, the departing host gave a Goodfellas-Copacabana-scene-style backstage tour of the place, paying tribute to the crew. Everyone from the writers to propmasters and accounting folks, got a shoutout—including writers like Beardy McPlaid, Beardy McPlaid, and Beardy McPlaid. Also, Scorsese made a cameo to ensure that everyone got what was being parodied.
Most Stewart-like, perhaps, our departing host gave a heartfelt warning about all the different kinds of bullshit that lurks in the world–the kind he’s been warning everyone about and reporting on, hilariously for nearly 17 years.
Finally, Stewart teared up again as he paid gratitude to his wife, the writer and animal activist, Tracey Stewart for showing him joy, and he thanked the audience for tuning in. Grace and dignity, folks, that’s what it looks like. At the very end, Stewart said goodbye with his own personal moment of zen: Bruce Springsteen and E Street Band playing “Land of Hope and Dreams” and “Born to Run” while Stewart dances with the beloved now-former coworkers, and his wife and kids. It was the most American thing that has ever happened.
Have a look through the slides above to see how other beloved hosts signing off compare.