The fate of The Daily Show was never more uncertain than in the weeks leading up to Comedy Central’s Hail Mary decision to bring back Jon Stewart as Monday night-only host through the 2024 presidential election.
On the one hand, the show had just won its first Emmy Award since Trevor Noah took over from Stewart in 2015. But on the other hand, it was still without a permanent replacement for the South African comic more than a year after his departure—as Daily Show correspondent Roy Wood Jr. pointedly reminded viewers, mouthing “please hire a host” from the Emmy stage.
Then, after Comedy Central delayed the show’s post-Christmas return from early January to February 12 and announced what was essentially the end of its year-long search for a host, one insider at the show predicted to me that the network might be running out the clock until a potential Paramount merger in order to kill the show altogether.
But The Daily Show was still very much alive—and trying desperately to recapture its old magic—on Monday night when Stewart returned to the desk as host for the first time in nearly a decade to rapturous applause from the studio audience. He began with the line, “Now, where was I?”
Stewart teased that in the coming weeks and months he would likely be using his reclaimed platform to talk about China and artificial intelligence—the two topics that reportedly caused Apple to cancel his show on that service—as well as “something a little lighter” like Israel and Palestine. But for his first show back, he used Sunday night’s Super Bowl as a way into getting down to business on the race between Joe Biden and Donald Trump: “These fucking guys?!”
Over the next 17 or so minutes, Stewart laid out the battle between the two men, notably using footage of Trump and his adult children failing to “recall” various basic facts during their own depositions after Biden was tarred as “a well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory” by Special Counsel Robert Hur this past week. “Yes, it turns out the leading cause of early onset dementia is being deposed,” the host joked.
Stewart made a point to mock Biden’s age-related gaffes just as aggressively as he did Trump’s, including everything from the president’s unfortunate mix-up during an angry press conference that was intended to dispel the concerns, to the bizarre TikTok videos he decided to post that only made him “look older.”
After briefly noting that Trump is also getting up there in age, Stewart asked, “What the fuck are we doing here, people?” While Biden has “lost a step,” he argued that Trump “regularly says things at rallies that would warrant a wellness check,” but his conclusion was that they are “similarly challenged.”
“One thing we know for certain is this: We have two candidates who are chronically outside the norm of anyone who has run for the presidency in the history of this country,” Stewart said, adding that they are both “stretching the limits of being able to handle the toughest job in the world.”
And he pushed back on the notion that voters “must silence concerns and criticisms,” making the case that that’s the job of the candidates themselves. Finally, he conceded that “Joe Biden isn’t Donald Trump,” citing the lack of criminal indictments, “but the stakes of this election don’t make Donald Trump’s opponent less subject to scrutiny.”
“If your guy loses, bad things might happen, but the country is not over,” he said. “And if your guy wins, the country is not saved.”
Later in the show, Jordan Klepper—the only current correspondent who started out under Stewart—jokingly called out his boss’ “snark and both sides-ism.” He imagined Stewart boiling the 2000 election down to “George Bush is dumb! Al Gore is so boring!” before adding, “All you do is brainwash voters into accepting a corrosive status quo when they could be out marching in the streets to affect change.”
It was a funny bit that culminated with him changing his tune once he found out he’d be hosting the show for the rest of this week, but Klepper had a point.
Stewart famously left The Daily Show in 2015 when Trump was still that joke of a candidate who recently descended a golden escalator. And while no one, including Stewart, thinks his comedy bits could have done anything to stop Trump from becoming president, he has said that wanted to return this year so that he could have some sway over the 2024 discourse.
So far, it seems that sway includes using his old platform to tell Americans that their two choices for president are both not that different and equally terrible.
Laura Davis is an entertainment aficionado who delves into the glitz and glamour of the entertainment industry. From Hollywood to Broadway, she offers readers an insider’s perspective on the world of movies, music, and pop culture.