On an evening when debating politicians again showed how much we need him, Jon Stewart walked away from The Daily Show after a class clown reunion, one final piece of advice and an intriguing memo from the Boss.
"And now, my moment of Zen," Stewart sais signing off, introducing Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, who performed Land of Hope and Dreams, not a surprising request by Stewart with its theme of helping each other pass through darkness. It's what the song segued into that may have been just a rave-up finale but could also be a hint about Stewart's future:
Born to Run.
A political career for Stewart has been whispered, his Oval Office visits with President Obama are documented, and he has lobbied for years in favor of extending first responder benefits, a cause taken up after the 9/11 attacks. Unlike David Letterman who left late night for Big Sky Country, or Jay Leno who just started booking standup gigs, Stewart left the door open for a return to some sort of dialogue format.
"We're taking a small pause in the conversation," Stewart said. "A conversation which, by the way, I've hogged and I apologize for that."
After more than 16 years of holding up a fun house mirror to America's foibles, Stewart's final show was generous with its thanks, starting with cameos from apparently every Daily Show correspondent during his stint. Claiming to divvy up the list of 17 GOP candidates to cover, the list soon exhausted that limit, with Steve Carell, Aasif Mandvi, Lewis Black, Kristen Schaal and Josh Gad among the most successful players since. Stephen Colbert popped by to explain his Frodo-Samwise friendship with Stewart.
"When you look at the talent that has passed though these doors, it would've been hard to screw this show up," Stewart said.
Later, a Goodfellas-style one-shot tour of the program's backstage and production offices squeezed in a cameo from the auteur being ripped off, Martin Scorsese.
Stewart's lone segment resembling a typical show was a monologue aimed at Camera 3, where the host would turn for heart-to-heart talks. He wanted to warn us that "bulls - - - is everywhere" but sometimes necessary "to keep from making each other cry all day."
Instead, Stewart took his final shots at the "institutional" purveyors of bulls - - -, using complexity and wrong-headed rhetoric to gain and maintain power.
"Whenever something has been titled freedom, family, fairness, help America, take a good long sniff," he said. "Chances are it's been made in a facility that may contain traces of bulls - - -."
Stewart's monologue concluded with a nod to national security measures.
"The best defense against bulls - - - is vigilance. So, if you smell something, say something."