"Rather than saying goodbye or good night, I'm just going to say, 'I'm gonna go get a drink,' and I'm sure I'll see you guys before I leave," an emotional Stewart told viewers near the end of his final episode, which aired late Thursday and lasted more than an hour.
New "Late Show" host Stephen Colbert, one of many former "Daily Show" correspondents to appear in the finale, offered one of the most touching tributes to Stewart. "We are better people for having known you," Colbert said. "You are a great artist and a good man. … I know you are not asking for this, but on behalf of so many people whose lives you changed over the past 16 years: Thank you."
Springsteen offered more good tidings. "Thanks for everything, Jon," he said as his band played. "We wish you happy and safe travels."
Taped hours before 10 Republican presidential candidates debated in Cleveland, Stewart's final episode opened with correspondents Jessica Williams, Hasan Minaj and Jordan Klepper supposedly reporting on Jeb Bush, Scott Walker and Donald Trump's debate performances. When Stewart wished they could cover more candidates, "Daily Show" alumni Aasif Mandvi, Al Madrigal, John Hodgman, Lewis Black, Kristen Schaal and Samantha Bee showed up to pick up the slack.
Then came Academy Award nominee and "The Office" star Steve Carell, who joked, "I can't hear you, John; there's a lot of applause in Cleveland," before being joined by his wife, Nancy Walls.
Larry Wilmore, whose "Nightly Show" normally airs after "The Daily Show's" conclusion, joined Stewart at the desk and claimed he had nothing else to do. "'The Nightly Show' got bumped," Wilmore noted. "Black shows matter, Jon."
In a taped message, previous "Daily Show" host Craig Kilborn joked, "You're finally getting canceled, Jon! I hate to say it, but I knew you were gonna run this thing into the ground."
One of the most satisfying cameos was made by former correspondent Wyatt Cenac, who recently caused a stir on Marc Maron's "WTF" podcast, in which Cenac recalled a heated writers' room conflict with Stewart. During Thursday's finale, Stewart asked Cenac, "You good?", to which Cenac replied, "Yeah, I'm good. You good?" Stewart responded, "Yeah, I'm good."
Rob Riggle introduced a series of messages taped by some of the people and groups the show has targeted. Among the people offering the funniest jabs:
- Arby's CEO, Paul Brown: "Jon Stewart: It's like your TV threw up on your face."
- New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie: "I'll never forget you, Jon, but I will be trying."
- Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: "[You're leaving] just when I'm running for president! What a bummer."
- Fox News host Bill O'Reilly: "Have fun feeding your rabbits, quitter!"
- Arizona Sen. John McCain: "So long, jackass."
Vance DeGeneres, Mo Rocca, Dave Attell, Matt Walsh, Dan Bakkedahl, Jason Jones, Josh Gad, Rob Corrdry, Nate Corrdry, Bassem Youssef, Michael Che, Olivia Munn, Ed Helms, John Oliver, and "Daily Show" successor Trevor Noah also made amusing appearances.
As Stewart started to thank all of these people for their kind (and not-so-kind) words, Colbert emerged. "You can't possibly leave without saying goodbye to your Sam," said Colbert, referencing to Frodo Baggins' close friend in the "Lord of the Rings" series. When Stewart asked why he's Frodo, Colbert explained, "Jon, one of us is adult-sized and does not have hairy toes."
Stewart said his co-workers are what he'd miss most. He introduced his staff in a taped, "Goodfellas"-themed segment that featured an appearance by that movie's Oscar-winning director, Martin Scorsese. "Hey, Jon, you know you ripped me off for the last time with 'Goodfellas,' OK?" Scorsese said. "You're going to hear from my lawyers, and soon."
Later, Stewart warned his audience about people who dispense bull crap, except he opted to use the expletive instead. "These [people] cover their unwillingness to act under the guise of unending inquiry," he said. "We can't do anything, because we don't yet know everything. We cannot take action on climate change, until everyone in the world agrees gay-marriage vaccines won't cause our children are going to marry goats who are gonna come for our guns."
He encouraged viewers to identify this pattern and stop it: "I say to you tonight, friends: The best defense against bull [crap] is vigilance. So, if you smell somethin', say somethin'."
After a final commercial break, Stewart thanked Comedy Central and his audience, then praised his wife, Tracy McShane, and their kids, Nate and Maggie, "for teaching me what joy looks like."
He then offered his audience what he called "my Moment of Zen": a medley of "Land of Hope and Dreams" and "Born to Run" by fellow New Jersey icons Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.
"This is by request from the man himself," Springsteen told the audience. As the band transitioned into the final verse of "Born to Run," Stewart joined his staff and guests in pouring onto the stage to dance.
Stewart hugged or shook the hand of each band member, accepted drummer Max Weinberg's gift of drumsticks, waved to the crowd, and grabbed Springsteen's mic to offer his final words as host: "Thank you. Good night."
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