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For comedian Jon Stewart, jocular anchor of the Emmy award-winning faux news program "The Daily Show" (Comedy Central, 1996- ), the transformation from frat boy humorist to pointed social and political satirist occurred during one of the United States' most turbulent times. Amidst war, government absurdity, and an increasingly compliant national media, Stewart emerged from a then obscure cable channel to become one of the nation's lone voices of reason in a sea of 24-hour news blowhards and pandering politicians. Despite Stewart's protestations to the contrary, "The Daily Show" became one of the most trusted sources of news for the Gen-X crowd - or "stoned slackers," as Fox pundit Bill O'Reilly referred to them - even though the comedian routinely claimed to be host of a fake news program. Over the years, Stewart's Emmy-winning show earned the respect of Washington's power players, many of whom found sitting in his interview chair integral to running a campaign or simply selling a book. Regardless of the criticism he received - mainly from the right side of aisle and media pundits who were his frequent targets - there was no doubt that Stewart and "The Daily Show" were a vital part of the nation's political discourse. After months of speculation about his future plans, Stewart announced he was leaving the iconic late-night series in 2015.
Born Jonathan Stewart Leibowitz on Nov. 28, 1962 in Lawrenceville, NJ, Stewart was the son of a physicist father and special education mother. When he was 10 years old, his parents divorced, leaving him emotionally shaken and estranged from his dad. Stewart realized at a young age that he was a smartass, a skill he used fending off fellow classmates who made fun of him for being Jewish. He quickly learned, however, that his time was better spent on pranks - like pretending to urinate on two lead actors during a school play - rather than making fun of the school bully. After high school, Stewart enrolled at The College of William & Mary in Virginia, graduating in 1984 with a degree in psychology. Stewart then moved back to Jersey, where he worked one odd job after another, including bartending and doing puppet shows for disabled children. Then at age 23, when he realized there was more to life than slinging drinks and playing softball, Stewart sold his car and made the risky move to Manhattan to become a stand-up comic.
The going was rough at first for Stewart's stand-up career. He had a gig at the Bitter End in Greenwich Village where, after his first performance, he dropped his last name because the announcer had difficulty trying to pronounce it. Stewart moved on to a more regular gig at the Comedy Cellar, though he mostly told jokes to the wait staff - the only people left in the place for his early A.M. slot. Eventually, he landed his first big break with a hosting gig on the sketch comedy show "Short Attention Span Theater" (Comedy Central, 1990-94). After leaving in 1992, Stewart was in the running to take over David Letterman's old spot on NBC's "Late Night," but lost out to the more experienced comedy writer (though not performer), Conan O'Brien. Despite this setback, he did manage to wrangle his own series, "The Jon Stewart Show" (MTV, 1993-95), an interview/variety show that was canceled after its second season.
Adrift once again, Stewart made several forgettable appearances on episodes of "The Nanny" (CBS, 1993-2000), "Newsradio" (NBC, 1994-99) and "Spin City" (ABC, 1996-2002). Even more forgettable was his foray into the feature world, where he had supporting roles in such dreadful fare as "Mixed Nuts" (1994) and "Playing by Heart" (1998). Though he had made strides, it appeared as though Stewart's career was stalled. But in 1998, Craig Kilborn - then host of "The Daily Show" - left to man the chair at "The Late Late Show" (CBS, 1998-2005), a job for which Stewart was also considered. Instead, he took Kilborn's place on "The Daily Show." But he soon became disenfranchised with the show's focus on celebrity gossip, trying instead to steer the ship into the political waters he felt so strongly about. His first year was a rocky one, with the change in direction irritating many on the writing staff. Stewart had his work cut out for him.
Eventually, over two-thirds of the staff left while Stewart revamped the show to suit his political bent. The result was a biting satire that not only highlighted the absurdities of those running the government, but also the feeble and often subservient manner in which the national media reported the news. From his anchor chair, Stewart delivered mock coverage of the day's headlines with stinging barbs, cheeky facial expressions and the occasional bad impression. While the show remained relatively obscure during Stewart's first year, it grew exponentially, thanks in large part to the critically lauded Indecision 2000, a long-running series that covered presidential primaries and the subsequent race between Al Gore and George W. Bush. The show sent correspondents to both party's national conventions, where they ran around asking unsuspecting attendees all manner of absurd questions. With that running bit, the series struck comedic gold. Stewart felt the coverage was a real turning point for the show, especially after winning Peabody Award later that year.
Suddenly, media pundits and national politicians began to take notice of Stewart and "The Daily Show," making it a must-stop for the Washington-New York-Los Angeles elite. But just as Stewart was awash in accolades and having fun with the absurdity of the newly-elected Bush administration, the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 shocked the country and dampened the national mood. All forms of entertainment - from movies to television to major league sporting events - shut down operations and went into a period of mourning. Ten days later, Stewart emerged with a fresh episode of "The Daily Show," and delivered a memorable and emotional nine minute monologue that at times led him to tears. At the end, Stewart promised his audience that he would return to being funny. But it took time - several weeks in fact - for Stewart to return to pre-9/11 form, as it did for many of his comic peers, including David Letterman and O'Brien. Meanwhile, "The Daily Show" earned more accolades in the form of three Emmy nominations. Though no show wins were forthcoming, the show did win the Emmy for Outstanding Writing for a Variety, Musical or Comedy Program the previous year.
As time passed and the situation in Washington slowly returned and eventually surpassed its typical absurdity, Stewart experienced something of a renaissance. With the world seemingly in chaos, thanks to a constant stream of terrorist threats and eventually a never-ending war in Iraq, Stewart honed his biting satire into a fine art. He was surprised to find, however, that his show suddenly became a trusted source of news among the college crowd, many of whom became disillusioned by the media's constant propagandizing and kowtowing to Washington power. The phenomenon came to light after their second go-round with a presidential campaign, Indecision 2004, which earned the show its second Peabody award. Numerous studies were conducted that showed surprising results; namely that those who watched "The Daily Show" were more informed about current events than those who obtained their news from more traditional sources. Stewart routinely brushed aside talk of him being a valid news source, saying instead that his viewers were more interested in a funny take on stuff they already knew.
In October 2004, Stewart was in the rare position of receiving criticism after his appearance on the cable news shoutfest, "Crossfire" (CNN, 1982-2005). Stewart was the sole guest for the entire half-hour, and to the surprise of both the audience and the show's producers, used his time to assail the show and its two hosts, Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson, calling them "political hacks" and decrying the show for "hurting America." Begala handled the criticism in stride, but Carlson took offense and weakly accused Stewart of not being funny. Stewart responded by saying that he wasn't "going to be [Carlson's] monkey" and that Carlson was "as big a d*ck on [his] own show as [he was] on any show." Though much discussed throughout the media landscape, Stewart returned to "The Daily Show" to a hero's welcome, where he resumed bringing the funny at the expense of "Crossfire." The long-running cable show was axed three months later, with CNN president Jonathan Klein citing Stewart's criticisms as valid. Stewart wrapped the year with two more Emmy awards: one for Outstanding Writing for a Variety, Music or Comedy Program, the other for Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Series.
Also in 2004, Stewart turned author with America (The Book): A Citizen's Guide to Democracy Inaction, which was co-edited with "Daily Show" writers. As a parody of a high school civics book - though with more pictures than words - America (The Book) took pointed, yet loving jabs at the flaws in the American political system. The book did manage to generate a small degree of controversy because of a picture depicting all nine Supreme Court justices with their heads superimposed on the bodies of elderly nudists. Nonetheless, the book went on to become a national best seller, earned "Book of the Year" kudos from Publishers Weekly and won a Grammy in 2005 for Best Comedy Album for the audiobook version. Meanwhile, with his popularity in ascendance, Stewart was chosen to host the "78th Annual Academy Awards" on ABC in 2006. Perhaps feeling a bit out of place on so grand a stage, Stewart had trouble connecting with the Hollywood crowd, though he did get off one of the best jokes in recent Oscar memory: "The singer Björk couldn't be here tonight. She was trying on her Oscar dress and Dick Cheney shot her."
After a mixed reception from critics but online polls overwhelmingly favoring his Oscar duties, Stewart returned to his "Daily Show," lambasting the state of the media, pulling the curtain back on the machinations of Washington and winning more Emmy awards in 2005 and 2006. At the time, however, the show began to lose several regular contributors, namely Stephen Colbert, Rob Corddry and Ed Helms. Though the show suffered a rough transition to new talent, Stewart remained as sharp and topical as ever. One segment that seemed to take on added significance and importance was the interview portion done at the end of the show. Stewart had a tradition of upper tier guests on the program - Al Gore, Bill Clinton, John McCain and even Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf to name a few - but he always considered himself to be a terrible interviewer. However, his chops had developed significantly over the years, especially in light of ever-growing criticism of the Bush Administration and its handling of the war in Iraq. On numerous occasions, Stewart asked pointed, but civilized questions that many in traditional news never asked, cementing the idea that "The Daily Show" had more journalistic credibility than CNN. Meanwhile, despite the mixed criticism of his past performance, Stewart was asked to host the "80th Annual Academy Awards" in 2008; a sure sign of the immense goodwill people of all political stripes had for the beloved comic. This time, however, he earned rave reviews for his performance. Meanwhile, "The Daily Show" continued to amass Emmy Award nominations and wins over the ensuing years. By 2012, the always popular and relevant series won a decade's worth of consecutive Emmys. Following that year's presidential elections, Stewart began making noises about life following "The Daily Show." His first major venture outside the show was the film "Rosewater" (2014), a political drama which he directed during an extended absence from the show in 2013, with correspondent John Oliver taking over hosting duties. At the end of the show on February 20, 2015, Stewart announced that he would be leaving "The Daily SHow" at some point later in the year.
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Made stand-up debut at the Bitter End in NYC
Hosted Comedy Central's news, clips and interview show "Short Attention Span Theater"
Hosted MTV's short-lived interactive dramatization program "You Wrote It, You Watch It"
Hosted "The Jon Stewart Show" on MTV, featuring celebrity and musical guests
Appeared in the Nora Ephron comedy "Mixed Nuts," starring Steve Martin
Had role as Goldie Hawn's young lover in "The First Wives Club"; cut from released film
Announced to succeed Craig Kilborn as host of "The Daily Show" on Comedy Central
Starred in the teen thriller "The Faculty" and the comedy "Playing by Heart", both produced by Miramax
Played Adam Sandler's best friend in the comedy "Big Daddy"
Hosted "The Daily Show" (Comedy Central), also served as writer and co-executive producer; earned several Emmy nominations for Performing, Writing and Producing a Variety or Music Program from 2002 - 2010
Tapped to host the annual telecast of the Grammy awards
Again hosted the annual telecast of the Grammy awards
Landed supporting role in the Danny DeVito-directed comedy "Death to Smoochy"
Produced the "Daily Show" spin-off "The Colbert Report" hosted by Stephen Colbert
Hosted the 78th Academy Awards
Made a cameo in the comedy feature "Evan Almighty"
Earned a Grammy nomination for the spoken word album <i>The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Presents Earth</i>
Nominated for the 2011 TV Critics Association Award for Individual Achievement in Comedy
Appeared as himself in "The Adjustment Bureau"
Directed political thriller "Rosewater"
Announced departure from "The Daily Show"