Stewart’s genius turned the mix of comedy and politics into a sort of rationalist warfare. He took the audience’s frustrations and fury with the whole process and gave it a voice. Colbert pointed out how ridiculous this all was, but that wasn’t Stewart’s bag; he wanted you to know how much of an asshole everyone was. He was far more moral, far more outraged. He took himself more seriously than most comedians, which was often his Achilles’ heel. (His first show after 9/11, unlike Letterman’s, is difficult to sit through now; you want him to take some deep breaths, remember he’s on TV and just chill for a second.) But that self-righteousness gave his show an undeniable momentum—and power.
When I first heard the news about Stewart leaving, I wondered how he could want to leave before the 2016 election. But this piece helped me to understand it better. Politics, right now, is satirical all on its own. A “fake news” show can’t lampoon something that already lampoons itself.