Why We'll Miss Jon Stewart, Champion Of Women

Photo: Martin Crook.
Jon Stewart, how can you leave us?

The landscape of late night television continues to be something of a joke itself, a homogenous zone composed mainly of white guys. Yes, Jon Stewart is one of those very white guys, but he’s one of the very few who has used his platform to advocate for change and speak up for the underrepresented — including women. When he concludes his game-changing 16-year-run as the host of The Daily Show on Thursday, August 6, Stewart will leave behind a legacy that will be analyzed and lauded for decades. Part of that legacy is his place as a feminist hero of late night.

Stewart continually made issues that were important to women a centerpiece of his show, becoming the thinking woman's crush. From covering the horrific notion of "defining" rape in legislation to the epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses, to gender wage equality and the instant sexualization of Caitlyn Jenner, Stewart did what he does best: pointing out, with brilliant biting wit, the absurdity of sexism and misogyny in our culture. Hell, he even stuck up for those whose viewpoints opposed his own when sexism was at play. (See his reaction to the media's portrayal of Michelle Bachmann as the “crazy-eyed” lady politician.)

Stewart is a genius at delivering these segments that cut idiots down to size, but he's proven himself to be equally gifted at knowing when to cede the spotlight. Over the years, he has shared The Daily Show stage with some of the strongest, smartest, most gut-busting funny women ever to appear on television.

Kristen Schaal. Samantha Bee. Jessica Williams. Nancy Walls. Beth Littleford. Rachael Harris. Olivia Munn. These fearless, no-bullshit correspondents have created some of the most memorable segments in Daily Show history, and it's impossible to imagine the show without them. “Jon Stewart appointed me the beat of Women's Issues, and as the Senior Correspondent of that I will be forever grateful," Schaal told Refinery29 in a statement. "I was intimidated at first — how do you make women's issues funny? Especially when they are rarely brought up in the news. But with Jon's guidance we tackled it. And I'm very proud of the work that I did on The Daily Show.” It's quite telling that the idea of saying goodbye to Stewart's Daily Show brings out the serious in a naturally hilarious person.

Schaal, Bee, and Williams in particular were such powerhouses that when Stewart announced he was stepping down, there were outcries from fans that they take over. If you need a reminder of how boss they are, watch Schaal’s take on the ridiculous stigma of singlehood in your 30s, Bee's segment on the women in the military debate and Williams' first-hand perspective on catcalling.

Photo: Martin Crook.

It’s funny to think that there was a time when Stewart was criticized for running a boys club. Back in 2010, The Daily Show came under scrutiny from Jezebel for having "a woman problem." They weren't entirely wrong. They argued that despite the show being nowhere near the frat club it was under Craig Kilborn's stewardship, Munn and Bee were the only female correspondents, and only 14 women had dropped by as guests, compared to 66 men that year. The female Daily Show staffers responded with an open letter, assuring Jezebel that, among other things, "we make up 40% of the staff, and we're not all shoved into the party-planning department."

Whatever behind-the-scenes drama may or may have not unfolded under Stewart, one thing is for sure: The women that he hired as writers and correspondents brought faces and voices to television that were urgently needed. (Hear that, Trevor Noah? We'll try and forget all about those questionable tweets, if you can at least ensure us that your Daily Show will continue to welcome talented, outspoken women.)

They may have been fewer in numbers, but Stewart did make a terrific habit of inviting kick-ass female guests. Whether he was engaging in incisive chats with frequent returnees like Malala Yousafzai or Sarah Vowell, or urgent race discussions with Ava DuVernay (whom he championed throughout Oscar season this year), Stewart offered a bullshit-free forum built on respect. No matter who he was talking to — an entertainer, an activist, a journalist, a politician — he never pandered. He asked each of his guests to talk about issues that mattered to them. And thankfully, this never had to do with who they were dating or what they were wearing. Well, except for the time Melissa McCarthy wore a dress entirely composed of his face, which was nothing short of awesome.
One of Stewart's final guests was Amy Schumer, who was approached to take over hosting duties of The Daily Show. She turned it down — explaining she didn't want a job that would tie her to one place for the foreseeable future — but Stewart knows talent when he sees it. Schumer made a helluva banter partner for Stewart in his final stretch.

We'll say goodbye to Jon Stewart with a heavy heart, and be grateful that he made our lives just a little bit better every night for the past 16 years.







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