Since tonight is Jon Stewart’s last night ever at The Daily Show desk, I just want to reminiscence about one of my favorite moments in his public career. It didn’t take place at Comedy Central, but rather on CNN’s Crossfire, hosted by bow-tie prep school poster boy Tucker Carlson and Paul Begela.
October 15, 2004. Early evening. Like Adam Mordecai over at Upworthy, I’ll never forget the first time I watched Daily Show host Jon Stewart absolutely destroy the media on Crossfire. I was a freshman at Temple University at the time, a resident in a dorm called 1940. I had recently picked up Stewart’s ridiculous America: The Book, which featured a nude centerfold of the Supreme Court Justices, for my birthday. I was digging the kabuki-theater of Presidential politics during an election year.
There were four or five of us on the floor who would gather every night to watch The Daily Show and chill. It was like a precursor for “Netflix and chill,” except with more marijuana, I guess.
I was in my dorm room when a friend from down the hall knocked on my door and told me to turn it on. I *think* I was eating cheese curls in my underwear at the time, probably playing bad Phish covers on an acoustic guitar. I don’t know. But a small group of friends quickly huddled in a room to watch the CNN segment. The next day, a group of us talked about it in two separate gen-ed classes: An Intro To Anthropology class and a world religion class, of all place. YouTube and online video weren’t really a thing at the time (…except porn), but a few early blogs had low-res copies of the segment on their websites. Long before “going viral” was even a term, the segment quickly went viral.
Like Mordecai, Stewart’s passionate and barbed evisceration of Tucker Carlson and the media at large blew my mind. The animosity between them was palpable for viewers. The whole segment was like WWE-esque drama at the intersection of big media and national politics. I wanted Stewart to be President — Finally someone was speaking truth to power about the bullshit of soundbite culture and television media. Why the hell was John Kerry running and not this guy?
It was glorious in a “OH, SHIT!” type of way. The moment was total game changer that paved the road for Stephen Colbert and John Oliver and the many others that now make up a much more complex media landscape. It caused the audiences to loosen their collars about blabbermouths like Bill O’reilly and Lou Dobbs. Hell, the episode is even been immortalized with it’s own Wikipedia entry. Some say it marks the district moment Tucker Carlson’s career ended.
I transferred out of Temple after that semester ended.
This segment was almost 11 years ago. I’ve been out of college a whole hell of a lot longer than I’ve been in it. I’m old now. The only consolation is that who remembers watching this television magic live when it happened is also old now too.
But what a moment. Thanks for the memories.
Enjoy your retirement, Jon.