The Angry Optimist by Lisa Rogak

angryoptimist“Jon Stewart is our daddy,” Trevor Noah announced on his first day as host of the long-running Daily Show. The South African Noah hilariously followed it up with “And now there’s a stepdaddy. And he’s black.”

It’s the type of self-deprecating line that had come to define The Daily Show since Stewart took over in 1999. Originally, the show had been hosted by Craig Kilbourne, former ESPN anchor, and described as personality-driven and a bit mean-spirited. Stewart decided to play the straight man, letting his correspondents, many of whom are now famous in their own right, underscore the absurdity of the news. Kilbourne could never have brought back the show from 9/11, but Stewart had long been considered a front-runner for several late-night gigs, including The Late Late Show, hosted, ironically, by Kilbourne for a time.

Lisa Rogak gets under the skin of Jon Stewart and reveals a man who is pretty much what you see. He’s not funny all the time. In fact, close friends say he’s not all that warm and cuddly. But Jon Stewart is a man who deeply cares about what he does and how it affects the world around him. Rogak demonstrates that the show’s environment was never perfect. Quite often, only Stephen Colbert, later of The Colbert Report, seemed to carry any weight backstage. And it’s not been the friendliest workplace to women. Though creator Liz Winstead admits finding correspondents who could hold their own with the likes of Colbert, Steve Carrel, and John Oliver was often hard during her tenure. Harder, in fact, considering Samantha Bee was a mainstay on the show for almost as long as Stewart (and now hosts her own Full Frontal.)

Stewart describes himself as a guy who, if not given the old Jon Stewart Show, guest slots on The Late Late Show during the Tom Snyder years, or The Daily Show, would be sitting around in his boxers yelling at the TV. Like many of his fellow Daily Show denizens like Colbert, Oliver, and Noah, he’s a self-professed news junkie. He also, despite an obvious liberal bias, served for a long time as the voice of the moderate, the people who didn’t want their ideology to come out of a can.

What struck me the most about Rogak’s profile of Stewart is the ordinariness of Jon Stewart, the private citizen. Stewart has his causes, 9/11 first responders most notably, but he seldom attends black-tie affairs, is seldom seen on the red carpet, and prefers to be a homebody with his wife, kids, and pit bulls. The Daily Show might have been a passion for him, but it was still a job.

And oh, what a job Stewart did.

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