On August 6, 2015 Jon Stewart signed off from the Daily Show for the final time. The end of Jon’s 16-year stint at the desk was universally covered as a “moment” in our cultural history, prompting a one-hour special from the Rachel Maddow show, and several effusive superlatives that TV would never be the same.
I’ve never watched a full episode of the Daily Show, the occasional clip here and there, including Jon’s bravura turn parodying Glenn Beck in 2011 for a full 15 minutes…but I have appreciated how he’s groomed many of comedy’s top contemporaries (John Oliver, Steve Carrell, Ed Helms) and I was a devotee of alumnus Stephen Colbert’s “Colbert Report”. Delightfully for me, it was my beloved Colbert that provided the most touching moment of Jon Stewart’s send-off episode.
In it Stephen Colbert manages the delicate balance of sentiment and comedy, cornering his boss and then launching a gratitude bomb at him that he can’t evade. (I sympathized with Jon here. I feel the same ickiness Jon demonstrated trying to wheel his chair back and fro, willing the ordeal to end). Stephen’s thank you is the only moment of the episode I watched and so I missed the “bullshit” speech Stewart gave. I feel no compulsion to watch it though, given that it seems a reiteration of the ethos of the show. Also, given that so many cable news shows now feature segments that cast a comic eye on the clown car that passes for politics it seems almost superfluous. It might be better for us to be diligent about looking for content, so miniscule is that rare nugget.
It was while browsing feedback on the Stewart speech I never watched that I came across a post urging folks to view a better send-off in their opinion, Conan O’Brien. Oh Conan. As much as I love Colbert, Conan was my first comedy love. As an undergrad at college it was the show I had to watch. I loved his dorky humor, the freshness and edginess of the bits. Everything else on late-night seemed tame. I still laugh when I think about the glory days of Masturbating Bear and Triumph the Insult Comic Dog. One of the highlights of grad school at NYU was the session we had with one of Conan’s writers–through hazy memory I think it was Jon Glaser– for a sketch comedy class. He was self-deprecating, laid back, funny, everything you’d expect a comedy writer to be.
Conan’s bitter NBC bow is a haze to me now, despite all the fury I felt at the time. (I bought into the Leno as evil puppeteer but in retrospect Conan’s humor was never suited to the milquetoast Late Night audience, an environment that the benevolent, inoffensive Jimmy Fallon has thrived in.)
There have been other forced goodbyes at the hands of Machiavellian NBC talent (looking at you Matt Lauer) and you might think Conan’s goodbye would be along the lines of Ann Curry’s tearful sayonara–she sat a woman wedged uncomfortably next to Matt Lauer who has an arm around her where he’s likely removing the knife from a job successfully done.
Ann was rueful about not being able to be the groundbreaker she wanted to be. Conan, by contrast, has no remorse, underlines his good fortune, jokes about going wherever the work is– even making a joke about playing a parking lot which he instantly regrets. But the coup de grace, the part that gets to you because of its truth is what he says at the end…
Speech starts at 0:35.
The money part of the speech…
“I hate cynicism. For the record, it’s my least favorite quality.
It doesn’t lead anywhere.
Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get.
But if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen. I’m telling you. Amazing things will happen.”
From me, amazing things happening soon. The film (that I’ve often talked about as Crazy Bollywood musical) gets its festival premiere next month. That’s why I had to change my about page. No more trying to make a movie. I made one. Now with Conan’s words in mind, I’m going to set sights on project two and with kindness (it’s really the shout-out to kindness that I think makes this quote so special) get back out there in the universe, optimism still bubbling right over.