Jon Stewart will retire from The Daily Show, the Comedy Central late-night talk show that he has hosted since 1999. He announced his decision during the taping of Tuesday’s episode. Members of the studio audience immediately began to tweet the news.
Comedy Central confirmed that Stewart will continue to host The Daily Show until later this year, when his contract is set to expire.
“For the better part of the last two decades, I have had the incredible honor and privilege of working with Jon Stewart," Comedy Central president Michele Ganeless said. "His comedic brilliance is second to none. Jon has been at the heart of Comedy Central, championing and nurturing the best talent in the industry, in front of and behind the camera. Through his unique voice and vision, The Daily Show has become a cultural touchstone for millions of fans and an unparalleled platform for political comedy that will endure for years to come.” She added, “He is a comic genius, generous with his time and talent, and will always be a part of the Comedy Central family.”
Stewart’s departure is the latest in a series of late-night shifts that began when David Letterman announced last April that he would retire from CBS’ Late Show. Stephen Colbert, the former Daily Show correspondent whose show The Colbert Report followed Stewart’s for years, left Comedy Central in December and will take over the Late Show desk in September. Another former correspondent, Larry Wilmore, was installed in the post-Daily Show timeslot in January with The Nightly Show (executive produced, as The Colbert Report was, by Stewart). Prior to Letterman’s announcement, Jimmy Fallon had, in January, taken over for Jay Leno as host of NBC’s The Tonight Show, with Seth Meyers sliding into Fallon’s Late Night seat.
In a November interview with New York magazine published ahead of the premiere of Stewart’s feature-film directorial debut, Rosewater, the comic, once considered the frontrunner to some day succeed Letterman, indicated that he no longer had any interest in a broadcast late-night job. “I think that it’s not something that would be sustainable for me, either through passion or interest or ability, so it would be a bad choice for them and for me,” he said. He also discussed the possibility of leaving The Daily Show before the 2016 presidential election, saying, “This is not the only process by which you can work material, and sometimes it’s more important to step back and reconfigure a conversation than continue the same conversation because you know how to do it.”
Stewart transformed The Daily Show, launched in 1996 with former ESPN broadcaster Craig Kilborn as host, into a powerhouse of political and social satire. The show became a regular stop for not just celebrities but also presidential hopefuls and world leaders to be interviewed by Stewart. John Edwards announced his first campaign for president on the show in 2002. Stewart began a 2006 interview with Pervez Musharraf by serving tea to the Pakistani leader. In 2010, Barack Obama became the first sitting U.S. president to visit the show.
It also became a hotbed of comedic talent rivaling Saturday Night Live, accelerating the careers of not just Colbert and Wilmore, but also Steve Carell, John Oliver, Rob Riggle, Wyatt Cenac, Kristen Schaal and Aasif Mandvi.
Replacing Stewart may be one of the greatest challenges in Comedy Central’s history — one that comes as parent company Viacom struggles with low earningsrelated to declining ad sales. Oliver, who filled in for Stewart during an eight-week stretch in 2013 when Rosewater was filming, now hosts HBO’s Last Week Tonight, which premiered its second season Sunday.