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The Long Goodbye: Is Jon Stewart's Summer Break A Sign Of Things To Come?

Woe is me. Jon Stewart is on sabbatical for the summer.

I ought to be used to his absence. The Daily Show disappears for a full week every time the rest of us have a three-day-weekend. The hardest working man in show business Jon is not. Even when he’s there, it’s a mere four-day work week and, as much as I adore him, the last third of every show is usually pretty weak: His guest interviews range from so-so to hand-me-the-remote.

But so what.

Ten good minutes of Jon Stewart is really all I need. It’s a concentrated dose of truth-telling that cuts through the spinjaggers and blabispherists who dominate the airwaves for the rest of the day/week. He provides a probiotic for the nervous system so fans like me can sleep at night.

Ten good minutes of Jon Stewart is really all I need.

What am I supposed to do for the next three months on days when the “real” news is so distressing/outrageous/stupid that I find it impossible to face the newspaper; when I lunge for the “off” button so I won’t have to hear John Boehner or Eric Holder on All Things Considered?

When I learned that a large percentage of Americans get their news from The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, I felt reassured about the future of our republic.

Jon Stewart is the chief rabbi of the United States, and I watch him religiously. This has nothing to do with the man’s observance or belief. He is just flagrantly Jewish, dropping references to his own Jewy-ness and mentioning minor Jewish holidays (like Purim) that really should have subtitles. Sometimes I think he’s showing off Jewish cool; Sometimes I think he’s daring the anti-Semites of the world to reveal themselves as donkeys.

But no one delivers a righteous, well-argued sermon like Stewart, who excels at telling truth to power. He blasts through the conventional “wisdom” that there are two sides to every news story. So when the NRA says it is tyranny for people to fill out a form before they buy a semi-automatic weapon, Jon says, “Stop pretending that background checks are the last barrier standing between a free America and Obama-sponsored government mom rape.”

Jon Stewart got me through the presidency of George W. Bush, many election cycles, Michele Bachmann and the rise of the Tea Party, and now he’s leaving me just as the Obama administration’s credibility seems to be circling the drain. Jon, don’t you get it? I need to laugh about that, too.

Stewart announced details of his summer plans on June 6, his last show until September 3. He will be directing a movie based on the experiences of Iranian journalist Maziar Bahari, who was interviewed on a 2009 Daily Show segment and arrested one week after the piece aired.

I can’t help but worry that this excellent summer adventure is a harbinger.

It sounds interesting and worthwhile and a great challenge and all that — but the professional stakes for Stewart are massive. If the movie turns out to be a dud or even just a modest success, the long knives will be out. I will be rooting for him.

Of course, he leaves us in the capable hands of a strong writing team and the smart, dimpled John Oliver. I will continue to depend upon Stephen Colbert, the most important Catholic on television, as he likes to remind us, a Merry Andrew who exposes social and governmental follies with wide-eyed, indignation-free wit.

Even so, I can’t help but worry that this excellent summer adventure is a harbinger. Jon Stewart has been behind The Daily Show desk for 14 years and since turning 50, he’s been kvetching about his advanced age. John Oliver is 36 and I suspect we’re being primed for succession.

Oh, well. At least we’ll always have YouTube.


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This program aired on June 11, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.

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