The best of The Daily Show
Since The Daily Show premiered in 1996, it has managed to rearrange the way Americans think about politics and media. Although the show began with host Craig Kilborn and continues today under Trevor Noah’s stewardship, The Daily Show‘s greatest peaks came during Jon Stewart’s legendary 16-year run. In honor of the 20th anniversary of Stewart’s debut as host, here are 10 of the show’s best moments.
Talking Through the 9/11 Aftermath
The “host’s emotional response to recent national tragedy” is a veritable cliche of late-night TV these days. Like many late-night cliches, it was pioneered and perfected by Jon Stewart on The Daily Show. Back in 2001, before mass public tragedies became so tragically common, Stewart reacted to the 9/11 attacks honestly and bluntly during his first show back. The host simultaneously comforted viewers, talked through the conflicted feelings in its wake, and even deconstructed the exact kind of speech he was doing as he did it. “It’s another entertainment show beginning with an overwrought speech by a shaken host,” Stewart noted. Unlike so many others, however, Stewart brilliantly managed to pull on several emotions at once, as only he could: “Everyone’s checked in already, I know we’re late. I’m sure we’re getting in right under the wire before the cast of Survivor offers their insight.”
Following Up With 9/11 First Responders
Although Jon Stewart’s run on The Daily Show is primarily remembered for his snarky attitude toward the news (especially Fox News), he was also interested in going behind the soundbites for reporting and talking to the real people affected by current events. For instance, Stewart didn’t just give his emotional post-9/11 remarks and be done with it; years later, he assembled and interviewed a group of 9/11 first responders to show the human cost of the Senate’s decision to filibuster a bill designed to compensate emergency responders who had fallen ill from the effects of ground zero. The result was a demonstration of the emotional human stories underneath so much of the show’s comedy.
Covering Indecision 2000
Donald Trump’s rise to the Republican nomination was certainly unexpected, but it doesn’t make 2016 the only crazy presidential election of recent decades. Back in 2000, the race between George W. Bush and Al Gore was so contentious it went on deep into the night. Jon Stewart did not disappoint during his first time covering an election for The Daily Show, thoroughly mocking the way the election was ultimately decided by the Supreme Court: “The final margin in the state of Florida? Five votes to four votes.”
Unleashing the 'Go F*ck Yourself' Gospel Choir
Jon Stewart spent much of his time on The Daily Show ridiculing, parodying, and dissecting Fox News’ coverage of current events. His most colorful method of doing so was a gospel choir he would recruit to sing “Go F— Yourself” in glorious tones at his media enemies — made even better by the fact that the main word had to be bleeped out.
Calling Out Jim Cramer
Over the years, Jon Stewart became something of a spokesman for certain Americans — those that couldn’t believe the vapidity of their news or the stupidity of their politicians. He never exemplified that role more than during his explosive 2009 interview with Jim Cramer. Stewart savaged the Mad Money host for his irresponsible coverage of the American economy, which Stewart believed fed into the financial crisis. In doing so, he voiced everything angry Americans wish they could say to Wall Street bankers, the politicians that enabled them, and the journalists who coddled them. Best of all, Stewart beat Cramer with his own words — whenever he tried to offer a defense, Stewart would play one of Cramer’s own clips to contradict him. Few interviewers on any program challenge their subjects to this degree.
Stephen Colbert's Take on Prince Charles' Gay Scandal
In 2003, news surfaced that Prince Charles may have once been sexually involved with a male servant. This was made hilarious by the fact that the British media refused to describe what the scandal was about (2003 was a different time for gay coverage in the media). To parody this, The Daily Show sent Stephen Colbert to London to report. According to Colbert, British slander laws prevented him from talking about the allegations directly. Instead, Colbert spoke between the lines by making several suggestive gestures and eating a banana in a way America has never forgotten. Not only did Stewart break down laughing — by the end, even Colbert couldn’t keep a straight face.
Even Stevphen (Colbert vs Carrell) on Islam/Christianity
It’s hard to imagine a time when Stephen Colbert and Steve Carell were just correspondents on The Daily Show and not megastars in their own right. But indeed they were, and they were very good at it too. Carell and Colbert’s recurring ‘Even Stevphen’ segment — in which they parodied CNN-style talking head debates — was both smart and hilarious. The peak may have come in their segment on religion, in which Carell and Colbert took the sides of Islam and Christianity, respectively. The two parodied dogmatic religious rhetoric (“look, let’s assume for the sake of argument that your god is the one true god. That would mean Allah is not the one true god, which we know him to be. Stephen, your logic eats itself”) and the fact that divergent religious factions usually only unite over hatred of other religious groups.
Reporting in Iran
The Daily Show‘s correspondents journeyed all over the map. In 2010, Jason Jones went to Iran, where he interviewed Iranians who were being unfairly persecuted by their government. One of them, the journalist Maziar Bahari, was later imprisoned, and became the subject of Jon Stewart’s debut directorial effort, Rosewater. The overseas reporting was a new step for The Daily Show, one later seen on Last Week Tonight when John Oliver flew to Russia to interview whistleblower Edward Snowden.
Covering the 2008 Republican National Convention
In July 2016, several late-night talk show hosts trekked to Cleveland to cover the Republican National Convention, a type of on-the-ground political comedy reporting first pioneered by Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show. Two of those hosts, Stephen Colbert and Samantha Bee, are of course veterans of The Daily Show. Bee’s reporting skills shined in the show’s coverage of the 2008 Republican National Convention, where she tied delegates into knots asking about their simultaneous defense of Bristol Palin’s teen pregnancy and their opposition to abortion.
John Oliver's Takeover
In retrospect, John Oliver taking the reins of The Daily Show for most of summer 2013 was a pretty obvious trial run for his own show, Last Week Tonight (which launched the next year). Even so, the string of episodes were hilarious in their own right, from Oliver’s ever-changing jokes about Stewart’s absence (he’s “currently on a Rumspringa,” he’s “spending the summer undercover posing as a high school student in order to bust a drug ring”) to gun control parodies about “phone control.” Once again, it proved that for all of Stewart’s magnanimity, The Daily Show‘s greatest strength was always its deep bench of talented correspondents and writers.