In an hourlong farewell that kept the fake news to a minimum, Jon Stewart hosts his last “Daily Show.”
NEW YORK — After 16 years of taking satirical aim at the hypocrisy of politics and the fatuousness of the news media, Jon Stewart said goodbye to “The Daily Show” Thursday evening with a farewell broadcast that mixed wry parting shots with earnest displays of emotion and with a passionate speech urging his audience not to accept falsehoods and misinformation in their lives.
Stewart, 52, who had presided over the Comedy Central news-parody show since 1999, concluded his final episode with a spirited sermon against what he euphemistically described as “social-contract fertilizer.” (He also used a familiar and much stronger epithet.)
Blatant mendacity, Stewart said, has become ubiquitous and pernicious.
Most Read Nation & World Stories
- The handwarming story of how Bernie Sanders got his inauguration mittens
- ‘A total failure’: The Proud Boys now mock Trump
- The woman behind Michelle Obama's instantly iconic hair
- Hank Aaron, baseball great who became voice for civil rights, dies at 86
- Sports on TV & radio: Local listings for Seattle games and events
“Whenever something’s been titled Freedom Family Fairness Health America, take a good long sniff,” he said.
The only way to combat the relentless intrusions of dishonest people, Stewart said, was through vigilance.
“Their work is easily detected, and looking for it is kind of a pleasant way to pass the time,” he said.
“So if you smell something, say something,” Stewart added.
And then, for good measure, there was a performance by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.
The broadcast began with what appeared to be a traditional opening act in which Stewart poked fun at a current event — in this case, the Republican presidential debates in Cleveland. But this was simply a setup for the many on-air correspondents and contributors who have passed through “The Daily Show” during Stewart’s time on the show to pay their final tributes.
Among the celebrated alumni who gave their testimonials, Steve Carell, who went on to become the star of NBC’s “The Office” and films like “Foxcatcher,” joked that he had never really left “The Daily Show.”
“Becoming an international superstar is just something I did while waiting for my next assignment,” he said.
Larry Wilmore, who now hosts his own Comedy Central late-night series, “The Nightly Show,” groused that his program had been pre-empted. “Black shows matter, Jon,” he said to Stewart.
There were further cameos from John Oliver, Kristen Schaal and Samantha Bee, as well as Stewart’s “Daily Show” successor, Trevor Noah, who wandered onto the set with a tape measure. (“Could you give me like 20 more minutes?” Stewart asked him.)
In a taped montage, several of Stewart’s past targets of ridicule, including Chris Christie, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Bill O’Reilly and John Kerry, fired back good-natured ripostes at him.
“So long, jackass,” Sen. John McCain declared at the end of the segment.
And of course there was a visit from Stephen Colbert, the former “Daily Show” correspondent and star of Comedy Central’s “Colbert Report,” who is about to succeed David Letterman as the host of CBS’ “Late Show.”
In a sincere and seemingly unscripted speech, Colbert told Stewart that, though Stewart had previously told employees “never to thank you because we owe you nothing,” this was “one of the few times I have known you to be dead wrong.”
“You were infuriatingly good at your job,” Colbert told Stewart. “All of us who were lucky enough to work with you for 16 years are better at our jobs because we got to watch you do yours.”
Stewart did his best to remain stoic but was brought to tears by the Colbert tribute.
Stewart first disclosed on a “Daily Show” broadcast in February that he intended to leave the program. “This show doesn’t deserve an even slightly restless host, and neither do you,” he said.
Since then, Stewart, whose handful of extracurricular activities include writing and directing the 2014 drama “Rosewater,” has kept relatively quiet about his plans, except to say that he intends to spend more time with his family.
(On an official “Daily Show” podcast that billed itself as the “exclusive, definitive Jon Stewart exit interview,” the host spoke mostly about the catered meals he and his staff ate on the program.)
In his final weeks in the anchor chair, Stewart largely resisted any impulses toward self-congratulation or nostalgia: Most nights found him inveighing against favorite nemeses, such as the Koch brothers or his critics at the Fox News Channel. He played a handful of retrospective montages that emphasized his shortcomings, spotlighting awkward highlights from his interviews, his dissonant singing voice and his inability to make an impact on news events.
None of this discouraged some of Stewart’s final guests from pleading with him to stick around a little longer. When President Obama appeared on “The Daily Show” in July, he jokingly told Stewart: “I’m issuing a new executive order that Jon Stewart cannot leave the show. It’s being challenged in the courts.”
While interviewing his friend and fellow comedian Denis Leary on Wednesday, Stewart said he was comfortable with his decision to step down.
“When you do something that you know will never be as good at something as you were at this, you have to make peace with it,” Stewart said. “And I’ve made peace with it.”
In his final remarks to his audience, Stewart thanked his wife and children “for teaching me what joy looks like,” and told his viewers he was not leaving their lives for good.
“Nothing ends,” Stewart said. “It’s just a continuation. It’s a pause in the conversation. So rather than saying goodbye or good night, I’m just going to say: I’m going to go get a drink. And I’m sure I’ll see you guys before I leave.”