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Jon Stewart re-emerges, says ‘life exists outside television’

Jon Stewart told David Axelrod that he does

Jon Stewart told David Axelrod that he does not plan to return to television. Credit: Getty Images / Mark Davis

Where in the world is Jon Stewart, erstwhile host of “The Daily Show”?

His last Comedy Central program was on Aug. 6, 2015. He signed a mysterious four-year production deal with HBO on Nov. 3. And other than a brief interview with Gayle King of “CBS This Morning” in October — in which he confessed to missing colleagues but “we bitmoji back and forth” — he has been rarely seen on TV.

By those unreal standards which confer reality on public figures, namely the Internet and (yes) television, Jon Stewart has largely ceased to exist.

That, at long last, may have begun to change. Last week, he hosted the 75th anniversary celebration of the USO, appearing alongside David Letterman, another former star who has voluntarily consigned himself to late-night TV purgatory. On Monday, Stewart was guest of “The Axe Files,” a University of Chicago / Institute of Politics streaming series hosted by former Obama strategist David Axelrod.

Following that, in one blazing instance, the Internet swooped in. His comments about presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump went viral (“He is a man baby”) and, suddenly, Stewart once again came into focus on our screens. He’s still real after all.

Stewart even made news, saying his HBO project (he refuses to use the word “show” or “program”) could arrive as early as September. During a Paley Center forum in Manhattan last week, HBO chief Richard Plepler said a pre-election launch was only a possibility.

Among fervent fans, Stewart’s TV lack of visibility this political season seems almost like a plot from a Marvel superhero movie: Steve Rogers is AWOL and Helmut Zemo has taken over the world. Their laments have ranged from reasoned (Esquire: “Why We Need Jon Stewart Back Before Election Day”) to desperate (Salon: “Help us, Jon Stewart: You’re our only hope to defeat Donald Trump.”)

Momentarily assuming a role as their proxy on Monday, Axelrod pressed Stewart on “when do you expect to surface?”

“I wished I had a better answer,” said Stewart, “but I don’t know. I’m working on [the HBO project]. I’d love to have it ready by September, but not necessarily by the election, if that’s a D-Day.”

Axelrod leaned in: “But it’s an important time.”

Stewart: “As I said, I’ll vote.”

In fact, the former late-night TV host on Monday simply reinforced what he said last August. That role will forever remain “former.”

“I’m not going to be on television anymore,” he said. “I feel like I’m more engaged now. When you’re not on television, you’re still alive.”

In announcing the Stewart deal last fall, HBO explained — sort of — that he will work with a “cloud graphics company OTOY Inc. [which] is developing new technology that will allow him to produce timely short-form digital content.”

In Chicago on Monday, Stewart said this technology would afford the chance to do “animated interesting small bits” but that “the October surprise in this election is not a two-minute cartoon I’m going to release.”

Later, he surveyed the audience, then shared his own personal road map to Zen: “Life exists outside television, and likes and Instagram. Engage the world.”

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