Jon Stewart's exit from The Daily Show Thursday night felt a little like a memorial service.
At times it was awkward, slow-paced and almost uncomfortable to watch, like invading someone’s privacy, none of which are terms I would have applied to The Daily Show, except this was not so much The Daily Show, as viewers were invited to an end-of-show party with all the tributes and hugs and tears.
Those who were expecting a final blaze of Republican debate-skewering glory—Stewart feinted toward that, but then he said he had nothing—or a Stephen Colbert-like exit could be forgiven for feeling a little let down at the outset.
But as the show progressed, it was clear this was to be a gentle farewell, with many "salty goggles" sported throughout, Stewart's reference to the tears that were being held back by the show's rank and file on the last day, a crew he classily saluted in a single-take tribute.
It was a wistful exit, full of heartfelt thanks and blinked-back, and un-blinked back, tears, bordering on maudlin but redeemed, ultimately, by Stewart's brilliant "camera three" riff on "bullshit" that reminded us why we love him.
Colbert's exit was much more entertaining, mostly because he preserved his persona to the last and went out in a blaze of ludicrous, kitschy grandeur. And Bette Midler still takes the top spot in poignant late-night goodbyes with her One for My Baby rendition to Johnny Carson on his penultimate show.
Stewart exited talking about having some time on his hands, and about this not being the end, but a pause in the conversation.
But it felt a lot like the end, or as someone tweeted after the show last night, like losing a friend.