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On Stewart's Final 'Daily Show,' Parting Was Standing-Room-Only Sorrow


Jon Stewart bid farewell to "The Daily Show" last night in a program that seemed to feature everybody who'd ever appeared on the show during his tenure. NPR TV critic Eric Deggans was watching.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: How do you say goodbye to TV's smartest satirist, especially when he seems determined not to get too sentimental? Well, it helps if you can wrangle a surprise appearance from The Boss.


BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: (Singing) The highway's jammed with broken heroes on a last chance power drive.

DEGGANS: Bruce Springsteen's serenade capped the chaotic, occasionally uneven, finale episode. It was a bittersweet hour that tipped a hat to Jon Stewart's influential 16-year tenure without looking too much like a deluge of compliments. One segment lined up people who had been on the receiving end of Stewart's jokes to take a little revenge, including Hillary Clinton, Wolf Blitzer and the CEO of an obscure little fast-food company.


PAUL BROWN: I'm Paul Brown, CEO of Arby's...


BROWN: ...Brought to you tonight by Jon Stewart. Jon Stewart - it's like your TV threw up on your face.


DEGGANS: And when original "Daily Show" host Craig Kilborn popped up, he paid his respects with a bit of a roast, too.


CRAIG KILBORN: You're finally getting canceled, Jon. I hate to say it, but I knew you were going to run this thing into the ground.


DEGGANS: In fact, almost every person who worked as a correspondent on the show during Stewart's tenure surfaced in a long segment with performers like Ed Helms, Rob Corddry, Steve Carell, John Oliver, Olivia Munn and Michael Che. The bits weren't always funny, but they were an indirect reminder of just how much of today's comedy landscape can be traced back to Jon Stewart's "Daily Show." But then Stephen Colbert had to show up and talk more seriously about the debt that ex-correspondents like him owed their former boss.


STEPHEN COLBERT: We owe you because we learn from you. We learn from you, by example, how to do a show with intention, how to work with clarity, how to treat people with respect. You were infuriatingly good at your job, OK?

DEGGANS: Stewart fidgeted uncomfortably through Colbert's speech, visibly resisting the effort to get too thoughtful about his legacy or impact. That's an ongoing habit with Stewart that influenced the tone of his final show. Direct as he can be in his comedy, the host rarely talks specifically about what he's accomplished as a satirist and commentator. Instead, he urged his audience last night to be vigilant about rooting-out nonsense in public life. OK - he used a more colorful, less NPR-friendly word for nonsense, and he offered these words about leaving the show.


JON STEWART: An artist I really admire once said that he thinks of his career as a long conversation with the audience - a dialogue. Nothing ends. It's a pause in the conversation. So rather than saying goodbye or good night, I'm just going to say, I'm going to go get a drink, and I'm sure I'll see you guys before I leave.

DEGGANS: OK, Jon, you have that drink, and let critics like me talk about how much poorer the national conversation will be now that you're off "The Daily Show." With any luck, we'll see you pick up your end of the dialogue soon in an even more exciting way. I'm Eric Deggans. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.
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