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How funny man Jon Stewart became a serious influence

Called the nation's "satirist in chief," Jon Stewart’s comedic rants and skewering of the daily news have had far-reaching influence on media and politics. Now he's leaving The Daily show after 16 years. Jeffrey Brown looks back at Stewart’s impact.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    One last zinger, one last laugh, one last bow. Jon Stewart takes his leave of “The Daily Show” tonight.

    Jeffrey Brown has our look.

  • JON STEWART, Host, The Daily Show With Jon Stewart:

    Whose team are we on in the Middle East?

    (LAUGHTER)

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Jon Stewart has been called the nation’s satirist in chief, and recently he went at it, once again, with the commander in chief.

  • JON STEWART:

    We’re fighting with Iraqis to defeat ISIS, along with Iran, but, in Yemen, we’re fighting Iran with Iraqis and Saudis.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:

    That’s not quite right, but that’s OK.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:

    But, look…

  • JON STEWART:

    Whose team are…

  • PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:

    Look, here’s…

  • JON STEWART:

    Who are we bombing?

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    It was President Obama’s seventh appearance on Stewart’s “Daily Show,” and his last.

  • PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:

    I’m issuing a new executive order that Jon Stewart cannot leave the show.

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    But Stewart is leaving, after 16 years of a kind of faux newscast that took daily events and gave them a comedic, often pointed twist.

  • JON STEWART:

    It’s supposed to be fun.

  • JESSICA WILLIAMS:

    A water gun at a Texas pool party? Are you trying to get me killed?

    Eric Deggans is TV critic for NPR.

  • ERIC DEGGANS, NPR:

    Jon Stewart’s ultimate enemy is hypocrisy and phoniness.

  • JON STEWART:

    Reid, how did you not read this bill?

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

  • ERIC DEGGANS:

    Other late-night shows are focused on entertainment. “The Daily Show” has always been more about the news. It’s been more about trying to take things that have always seemed so serious, while also making fun of them, exposing truths that are hard to get at any other way.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    In a conversation last year, as he released “Rosewater,” his first feature film, Stewart told me how he sees his role.

  • JON STEWART:

    The conversation is about the space between the public face of our leaders vs. the private strategies that produce that face, the facade that’s placed over it. The conversation is about corruption, whether it comes to governance or whether it comes to media.

    The satire comes from a place of urging. It comes from a place of an ideal. It’s — the humor only works as a counterpoint to seeing something that you feel is not at the level where you know it could be, of opportunity squandered.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Stewart would hone that approach over the years, sometimes acting goofy

  • JON STEWART:

    Thank you for joining me in the library, Mr. Vice President.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • JON STEWART:

    We invaded two countries.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Sometimes angry.

  • JON STEWART:

    We have got to do whatever we can to keep Americans safe. Nine people shot in a church, what about that?

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    One constant target, the media, particularly what he saw as the bloviating on cable news.

    Stewart and his writers would find the moment, and roll the video.

  • WOMAN:

    This mantra of the unarmed black teenager shot by a white cop, you know, that description in and of itself actually colors the way in which we look at this story.

  • JON STEWART:

    Yes, describing the actual facts of the case.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    An early flash point came in 2004, when he lambasted CNN’s “Crossfire.”

  • JON STEWART:

    You’re doing theater, when you should be doing debate, which would be great.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Another regular target, politicians, again, often captured in their own words.

  • HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON Democratic, Presidential Candidate:

    I have been coloring my hair for years.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    But politicians on both sides of the aisle sought out “The Daily Show.”

  • SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), Arizona:

    I’m sure you will be much more respectful.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Conservatives might rail against what they saw as Stewart’s liberal bent, but Republicans, including presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, were regulars.

  • JON STEWART:

    But you believe that the Bubbas are better than the Bubbles?

  • MIKE HUCKABEE Republican Presidential Candidate:

    No, different.

  • JON STEWART:

    No, better.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    He joined Stewart nine times.

    New York Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, interviewed by Stewart on five occasions, told us how he influenced members of Congress and their staffs.

  • SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D), New York:

    He has a great episode on something that we have been working on, we are — we rush to watch it. That’s what he certainly did with the 9/11 health bill. He took something that was really languishing, languishing in the House for seven years without any movement. It had gone nowhere in the Senate.

    He framed the issue so effectively that there wasn’t a member of Congress who could stand up against him, particularly in the Senate. And when we passed that bill, it was unanimous. There’s so few people you can say that about that can actually shift a national conversation.

  • MAN:

    I agree with you, Jon. We should be able to shoot people.

  • JON STEWART:

    No!

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Another area of influence: members of his comedic team, including Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert and John Oliver, who’ve gone on to make their own marks.

  • SAMANTHA BEE, The Daily Show:

    Ignore this.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Samantha Bee served as “The Daily Show’s” longest-serving regular correspondent before leaving earlier this year.

  • SAMANTHA BEE:

    Jon gave me the freedom to really explore areas of concern that I felt passionately about. And that was very invigorating.

    Jon was our benevolent overlord. There’s no question. But working on “The Daily Show” changed my life profoundly. Typically, if he was pushing us in a direction, he was pushing us in the direction of elevating the joke.

  • AL MADRIGAL, The Daily Show:

    His success is due to the fact that he just worked his ass off and he really cares.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Current “Daily Show” correspondent Al Madrigal shared this anecdote with us.

  • AL MADRIGAL:

    At one point, during a “Daily Show” field piece, I started spinning, like Wonder Woman almost, in between cities, and for no reason whatsoever. And he — I remember him just laughing out loud in the screening, and going, that doesn’t make any sense. I love it. Go for it.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Not everything was rosy, it seems.

    Former “Daily Show” correspondent Wyatt Cenac recently claimed that Stewart blew up at him for questioning the racial overtones of a skit. Cenac was the only black writer on the program at the time.

    Another recent report, by Politico, that Stewart met with the president twice at the White House, shows the stature he attained beyond the television screen. And years into the faux news era, there’s also a question for the media industry about young people who came to rely on “The Daily Show” for their news.

  • ERIC DEGGANS:

    We are training nation of information consumers to expect that really affecting reporting also has to be really entertaining and fun to consume. As cool as it is to see what Jon Stewart has put together, some news stories are not entertaining, but people still need to know the information and they still need to access it to be better citizens.

  • JON STEWART:

    I smell a new Pixar movie.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    In the meantime, some things don’t change. As he departs, Jon Stewart is having great fun with the 2016 presidential race, just as he did when he spoke to us at the 2000 Democratic National Convention.

  • JON STEWART:

    I think there is always comic fodder in bad theater, and especially bad theater that has the mandate to matter, and not be superficial. So, I think that’s probably good fodder. But individuals are not — I don’t think we’re necessarily making fun of individuals. We’re making fun of more of a process than anything else.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Jon Stewart hasn’t said what’s next for him. Perhaps, picking up on one of “The “Daily Show’s” signature pieces, his own personal moment of Zen.

  • LARRY WILMORE, Host, The Nightly Show With Larry Wilmore:

    It’s like you won’t really be gone.

  • JON STEWART:

    I’m not dying!

    (LAUGHTER)

  • JON STEWART:

    I’m just leaving the show.

  • LARRY WILMORE:

    Whatever you have to tell yourself, man.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    For the PBS NewsHour, I’m Jeffrey Brown.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Check online for a list of the times Jon Stewart or his colleagues have actually influenced policy in Washington.

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