For Jon Stewart and his Daily Show viewers, tonight marked the beginning of the end.
While Comedy Central confirmed the news earlier today, Stewart officially announced on the Feb. 10 episode of The Daily Show that he will be stepping down as host later this year.
“Doug Herzog and Michelle Gainless of Comedy Central gave me an incredible opportunity 17 years ago to pilot this wonderful franchise,” Stewart said. “And 17 years is the longest I have ever in my life held a job, by 16 years and five months… In my heart I know it is time for someone else to have that opportunity.”
Stewart broke the news to his audience at the end of the episode, following his interview with David Axelrod. Stewart hinted at the start of the half hour, though, that audiences at home would already have an idea of what was to come.
“Obviously there are other things to talk about. We will get to that later,” he said at the top of the show. “You probably know things these people don’t yet, which is usually a twist on things,” he added, gesturing to the live audience.
Stewart proceeded to do the show as he normally would, until formally declaring that he intends to leave the show by the end of 2015.
“You know, I’m not going to be here and try and sum up what this place has meant to me over the years. I couldn’t do that,” he said. “And we’ve got plenty of time… I’m not going anywhere tomorrow. But this show doesn’t deserve an even slightly restless host, and neither do you.”
Stewart has been pulling hosting duties on Comedy Central since 1999. His impact has been felt not only on the late-night circuit, but also on the modern news cycle. By focusing on both current events and the media that report them, Stewart has become an actual news resource for many viewers—some of whom rely on him as much or more than they do on traditional news outlets.
Dozens of correspondents have been a part of that effort, with several going on to host their own shows on Comedy Central and elsewhere. Stewart’s former correspondent, Stephen Colbert, ended his run on The Colbert Report last December, while its replacement, The Nightly Show, is hosted by another Daily Show alum, Larry Wilmore. And John Oliver, who filled in for Stewart during the summer of 2013, has moved on to HBO with Last Week Tonight.
Stewart and Comedy Central have not specified when Stewart will step down, nor did the host make explicit mention of what he intends to do after leaving his Daily Show desk. And while one offer is already on the table, Stewart did mention that he’s not planning to go anytime soon.
“[I’m not leaving] right away… we’re still working out details,” he said. “I’m up in September, might be around then. Might be December, might be July, we’re still working out details. I don’t have any specific plans. Got a lot of ideas, got a lot of things in my head. I’m going to have dinner on a school night with my family, who I have heard, from multiple sources, are lovely people.”
So while J-Stew will have at least a few months to prep his goodbye plans, tonight’s episode already proved that this will be a tough farewell for both the comedian and his fans.
As Stewart paused near the end of his announcement speech, an audience member shouted, “We love you, Jon!” The rest of the audience burst into applause and howls.
Not one to let the moment pass without a joke, Stewart broke into a Frankenstein’s Monster impression, growling, “Agh, what is this fluid? What are these feelings? Frankenstein angry!”
He then reverted to serious mode, thanking the audience and saying “it’s been a privilege” to host for so long.