Friday, August 7, 2015

Bye, Jon

Last night was the final episode of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. The show will continue on with a new host, but Stewart's moved on after almost seventeen years. I didn't watch it last night--I'm old, we have kids, and I cherish my sleep too much now for those reasons and several others--but I did DVR it and I'll watch it later. I used to watch the show every day, but, as with Letterman earlier this year, by the time Stewart's run was coming to an end I'd long since stopped watching faithfully. And, also like with Letterman, it had nothing to do with the host or the show, per se, it was mostly all about how life changes and I found myself less likely to stay up to watch something that I could sample bits of online the next day. The must-see aspect of these daily late night shows started to diminish for me--and a lot of people my age and younger, I'd wager--in the last decade when it all started becoming available for viewing and dissecting in easily digestible clips the morning after the episodes aired. So, times change, and we change with them.

That said, I've been a fan of Jon Stewart as a comedian and a host and an interviewer and a pop culture personality for a very long time. It predates the Daily Show gig. He hosted a show on MTV during my college years, back when the Alternative Nation ruled the world, remember? He was part of that slacker era, even though people rarely remember that now. He used to have all of my favorite bands on his show, and it was clear that Stewart was a big fan of those bands too. I felt a connection to him back then that's mostly lasted. Plus, like Michael Keaton or John Cusack or countless other early icons of mine, he seemed to share my sensibilities and, whether consciously or not, I was heavily influenced by these guys. I always ask myself, am I similar in personality and humor and outlook to these guys because they influenced who I became? Or was I attracted to their styles because I was already like them anyway? I think it's a bit of both, but I know for certain that I wouldn't be the way I am (equal parts acerbic, genuine, sarcastic, honest, skeptical, passionate, cutting, heartfelt, etc.) without having grown up on a steady diet of watching guys like Stewart, Cusack, Keaton, Letterman, etc.

It was that genuine, heartfelt approach to the world on The Daily Show that always moved me the most. He used sarcasm and cynicism to cut through the bullshit because we're living in a world that's nothing but bullshit so much of the time, and sometimes the most effective way to make a point through all of the noise is to simply expose how absurd all of this is. He did it masterfully. On a consistent basis for a very long time. That's an accomplishment in itself. But my favorite thing about him will always be that we could see how much he felt things, how upset he got over social or political injustices, or how excited his inner fanboy became when talking about things that meant the world to him. That's why I always related to him. He was looking at the world from a skewed angle, like all the best comedians and cultural commentators do. And from that angle, he saw how things could be, and he spoke to that for each and every one of us that felt that way but didn't have a voice on a larger stage like he did. The show wasn't perfect, by any means. I always found him to be the best part of the show--the bits with correspondents grated on me over the years, but the impassioned monologues he delivered and the in-studio interviews he conducted were always the most memorable moments to me. That's why I think the pop culture world will be a little less insightful with him moving on.

I spoke to Stewart once a few years ago, briefly, at Schnipper's, I think it was the one on 8th Avenue. Now, I'm fond of saying that we all need to engage in knocking down our idols from time to time. It's important; we don't want them to get too big for their own good and lose what made them special to us in the first place. But talking to Jon Stewart was one of those moments where the rational me just flew out the window and fanboy irrational me took over. I was overwhelmed to be standing next to, and talking to, a man I'd revered for twenty years at that point. We didn't talk long, and we didn't talk about much, but it was a great moment for me nonetheless. And it involved a bathroom. Here's what happened. Schnipper's, the burger joint, required you to input a code from your receipt into the keypad outside the locked men's room door in order for you to gain access. I was siting near the bathrooms and I saw Stewart walk past me with his young son to use the men's room. Then I heard him tell his son he'd tossed his receipt so he didn't have the code to get in. Here was my chance! As he walked by again I said "Hey, I heard you just now--do you want my receipt for the code?" He smiled broadly and say "Aw, man! Thanks! Yeah, that would be great." He took it from me and headed back to the men's room. A few minutes later I had to, um, go, myself. I was pretty sure he was still in there too and I figured once he came out I could get in (since I didn't have my code anymore). I was waiting outside the door when it opened and out walked Stewart and his son. He saw me and flashed that big smile again and said "Hey, it's the guy with the code! Thanks, man! Here," and he held the door for me, "Just paying it forward!" We both laughed, I said thanks and actually patted him on the back as I walked past him. You know, like you would with your buddy. It was a genuinely nice moment. Throughout most of it, in my head I was telling myself "You're talking to Jon Stewart" over and over again because I couldn't believe it. But I didn't act like a fan even though I wanted to tell him how much his work had meant to me for so long. But I think just sharing a lighthearted moment was better, in the long run. And I got to interact with him while he was just out around town, being a dad (and his son was adorably cute), which has always made for a good story.

So, bye, Jon. It's been real. I hope you're enjoying a Schnipper's burger with your son a little more often now that you have some more time on your hands.

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