The news that Jon Stewart will be leaving The Daily Show later this year is sad; I’m sorry to see him go. But he’s also making the choice to leave it while he’s still got the energy and wit to make it a graceful exit.
What I think makes his work different from a lot of other comedians and observers of our world is that he was able to get the attention of the people he was laughing at. It got to the point that if someone was skewered by The Daily Show, they actually responded or, in some cases, even amended their ways. That’s a whole other level beyond getting a mention in a David Letterman monologue.
The closest parallel I can think of in terms of theatre is the role of the Fool in Shakespeare’s plays such as King Lear: the one character who had no trouble speaking truth to power and doing it in such a way as to really drive home the point with humor and surgeon-like deftness. We need these kinds of clowns — and I use that word in the best way — to bring down the powerful and remind them that they are just as flawed and powerless as everyone else.