Jon Stewart decided to leave "The Daily Show" because the process of watching Fox News, MSNBC and CNN hour after hour, day after day, year after year was making him clinically depressed.
And there -- in a phrase, slightly pumped up for dramatic effect -- is the reason for an exit after 16 spectacularly successful years, as explained in the course of a recent interview with the Guardian (like all moviemakers, Stewart must do the promotion circuit, and "Rosewater" opens next week in the U.K. )
While Stewart was vague about his next move, he was not about the reasons for actually leaving: This was a simple function of sanity -- his own -- coupled with the normal paternal urge to see his two children at some point between now and when they are in college.MORE FROM OUR CRITICVerne Gay's latest
But the "sanity" part is most compelling. Here's the way he put his intellectual torpor: “Honestly, it was a combination of the limitations of my brain and a format that is geared towards following an increasingly redundant process, which is our political process. I was just thinking, ‘Are there other ways to skin this cat?’ And, beyond that, it would be nice to be home when my little elves get home from school, occasionally.”
Here's the way he put his emotional torpor: “Watching these channels [Fox News, CNN, MSNBC] all day is incredibly depressing. I live in a constant state of depression. I think of us as turd miners. I put on my helmet, I go and mine turds, hopefully I don’t get turd lung disease.”
Is that a reason to leave or THE reason to leave? Stewart doesn't clarify, but if the reason, it offers an insight into his mindset. Media criticism, on some level, is designed to effect change, presumably change for the better: If the critic sees a travesty and calls out the purveyor of the travesty, then -- in an ideal world -- change occurs.
Of course it doesn't always work that way, and hardly ever does -- what really effects change in television are ratings.
Over those 16 years, Stewart became among the most effective, insightful and brutal critics since H.L. Mencken. But "effective" in what sense? After all those years of superating, blistering put-downs, it's still business as usual with the usual suspects. (The one tangible change happened when Stewart blasted "Crossfire;" it was subsequently canceled ... but a zombie version returned years later, and was finally put down last May.)
The writer of the Guardian story, Hadley Freeman, wonders why Stewart is leaving before the election. It's the other story behind the larger story of his departure, but Stewart doesn't do much to clarify, other than to say politics hasn't changed over those years either, except that the process of electing a president has deteriorated.
Possibly the real reason has a little more to do with Comedy Central, which needs to get his successor as much attention in as short a period of time as possible. That's where the election comes in. Trevor Noah is essentially known to no one here -- other than for the wrong reasons, so far, which were those few tweets that disparaged women and Jews.
Noah needs both a trial by fire and an education, as well as a forum that will get him maximum attention. The '16 election should do.
Meanwhile, the Guardian piece offered no guidance about the next move, and after reading this, you, too, may wonder: Does Stewart even know yet what those "other ways to skin the cat" are?