As of this morning, Jon Stewart is retired from his sixteen-year run at The Daily Show.
To have lived in the era of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart is like living through the peak years of Will Rogers, Dorothy Parker, Mark Twain. We are lucky he spent so many years as the satirist in chief.
Stewart is not a musician – but his career still has some important lessons to offer those pursuing music.
1. Do what you love and keep pursuing it. Stewart didn’t first do standup until 1987, three years after he graduated college. Between then and The Daily Show, in 1999, he had twelve years of attempts that didn’t quite work. In retrospect, you can see that he knew what he wanted but couldn’t quite it right. He was 37 when he started The Daily Show and began shaping it into the force we consider it today.
2. Work harder than everyone else. Every profile I’ve read of Stewart talks about how insightful, brilliant, and hard-working he is. The brilliance and insight come from the many years of practice; the hard work is what transforms that brilliance into something compelling, night after night.
3. Every performance is not the best. Mark Twain’s satires were not all the best; Jon Stewart had off nights. Watching regularly, you learned that even at the level he was working at, he would often miss the mark with his comedy. Make the best, work through it, and try again tomorrow.
4. Let your humanity show. No one can get through a retrospective without mentioning his tearful introduction after Sept. 11. As a comedian, as an artist, he was fully human and present in that moment – making it one of the most compelling moments from his entire run. The more of ourselves we let shine through our art, the more we will reach our intended audience.
5. Your life is not one thing. He’s tired. He’s said what he wants to say on The Daily Show and is ready to move one to other things. It would be a lot safer to keep doing the show he’s done fore 16 years. He is choosing the risky option – without any proof of success but following his need for a new chapter in his life. Commit fully to your art as you’re making it, but know the right time to start something different.
Thank you, Jon, for your art. It should inspire us all.