Jon Stewart, who turned his combination of biting and free-wheeling humor into an unlikely source of news and analysis for viewers of "The Daily Show," said he's leaving as host this year.
His departure was announced by Comedy Central President Michele Ganeless after Stewart, host of the show since 1999, broke the news to the studio audience at Tuesday's taping in New York.
Stewart, slapping his desk and blinking back tears, told the audience that he had signed on to "The Daily Show" 17 years ago, and "17 years is the longest I have ever in my life held a job, by 16 years and five months."
"This show doesn't deserve an even slightly restless host, and neither do you," he said. It's yet to be decided when he'll leave or what comes next for him, Stewart said, with one exception.
"I'm gonna have dinner, on a school night, with my family," he said.
Ganeless called Stewart, 52, a "comic genius." She did not specify his exit date or what led to his decision.
"Through his unique voice and vision, 'The Daily Show' has become a cultural touchstone for millions of fans and an unparalleled platform for political comedy that will endure for years to come," Ganeless said in a statement.
Stewart's influence is seen in the work of Stephen Colbert, John Oliver and Larry Wilmore, who went on to earn shows of their own. Other "Daily Show" alumni include Steve Carell, Ed Helms, Josh Gad and new "Saturday Night Live" Weekend Update anchor Michael Che.
"Shocked & sad to see the man who gave me my big break on @TheDailyShow is ready to hang it up," "Frozen" actor Gad posted on Twitter.
Stewart leaves a substantial void for Comedy Central, which has no heir apparent to replace him — unless Oliver bolts his HBO show to return to the fold.
For political junkies who depended on Stewart for his acumen as well as comic relief, the 2016 presidential election may be looking bleak.
Reaction was swift from Stewart's past targets as well as admirers.
"Just had the honor of being the great Jon Stewart's guest (on 'The Daily Show'), where he announced he's leaving. Emotional night," David Axelrod, former adviser to President Barack Obama, posted on Twitter.
Stewart's departure represents a second big blow for Comedy Central: Colbert left "The Colbert Report" last year to take over for CBS late-night host David Letterman when he retires in May.
Wilmore's "The Nightly Show" replaced Colbert's show.
The Stewart and Colbert shows created templates for a comedic form that offered laughs along with trenchant political and social satire. Authors and politicians were as common as Hollywood celebrities on the self-described "fake news" programs.
Stewart took a several-months-long hiatus in 2013 to direct "Rosewater," a well-reviewed film about an Iranian-born journalist who was imprisoned for 118 days in Tehran and accused of being a spy. The Comedy Central statement did not indicate what his plans are after leaving.
In a November interview with The Associated Press for "Rosewater," Stewart was asked about his future with the Comedy Central show. He replied that the format he works in doesn't matter.
"It's a journey. It's a conversation," he said. "One thing I won't do is write music or sing."
Mindy Kaling blamed the lure of filmdom.
"I knew when Jon Stewart left to direct that movie he was gonna try something like this," Kaling posted on Twitter.
When he returned from his filmmaking break, Stewart played a tape of President Barack Obama urging military action against Syria because of last month's poison gas attack.
"America taking military action against a Middle East regime," Stewart said. "It's like I never left."
In 2010, Stewart and Colbert drew a crowd to the Washington Mall for their Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear. They tackled familiar topics — the partisan gridlock in the nation's capital and the political talk show culture that encouraged it.
Stewart was credited with effectively killing one cable program — CNN's "Crossfire" — when his withering criticism of its partisan squabbling hit a nerve, and CNN soon canceled it.
He poked fun at politicians but spent even more time on the media establishment covering them. The most recent example was Monday night, when he tut-tutted NBC's Brian Williams for being caught exaggerating about the danger he faced covering the Iraq War.
On Tuesday, NBC announced that Williams was being suspended as "Nightly News" anchor and managing editor for six months without pay.
Stewart, however, had more withering criticism for the reporters covering Williams, joking that finally the media was criticizing someone for misleading the public during the Iraq War.
Kevin Convey, chair of journalism at Quinnipiac University, called Stewart's announcement a milestone.
His departure is "the end of an era that saw an entire generation turn to a comedian for news and views for the first time — a reign that presaged Twitter and other forms of social media" that provide "equal parts information and attitude to millions," Convey said.
Associated Press writer Lou Kesten in Washington, AP Film Writer Jake Coyle in New York and AP Entertainment Writer Derrik J. Lang contributed to this report.