For most of the past two decades on The Daily Show, Jon Stewart has been as important a part of our political and cultural discourse as anyone. But he was often criticized for letting his New Jersey and New York City roots bleed into his show, which was otherwise directed at a national audience. He interviewed New York personalities, would sometimes send up the local story of the day, and had an odd fixation with being a vocal champion of the New York utility pizza slice. But what some saw as a show that was “too New York” (a criticism also leveled against Big Apple–based late-night comedy shows like Saturday Night Live and Late Night with David Letterman), we saw as a sign that one of our most beloved voices was also one of us. As he begins his lame-duck period before leaving The Daily Show later this year, let’s look back at five of Stewart’s best on-air New York City Moments.
“For Fuck’s Sake…We’re a Bit of a Pizza Mecca” Here Stewart takes on Donald Trump, who, when Sarah Palin visited the city in 2011, took her out to lunch for “real New York pizza.” Only he didn’t take her to Lombardi’s, or Grimaldi’s…or Totonno’s…or John’s…or Denino’s…or Joe’s (all Stewart recommendations). No, the Donald took Palin to…Famiglia on 50th and Broadway. “It’s a chain!” Stewart shouts, before showing a clip of Trump using cutlery to tear into his slice. Stewart then loses his mind: “Are you eating it with a fucking fork?!”
“If Comedy Is Tragedy Plus Time, I Need More Fucking Time” On December 3, 2014, just moments after it was announced that the NYPD officer who deployed a fatal chokehold on Eric Garner would not be indicted, Stewart went on a mostly unscripted rant. “I honestly don’t know what to say,” he said (though he ended up riffing for nearly four minutes). “This just happened.” He summed up the thoughts of many who, in the wake of the Ferguson, Missouri, grand jury’s decision not to indict the shooter of Michael Brown, couldn’t believe an incident that had been captured on video had yielded the same result. Then, before breaking for commercial, he attempted to change the mood with an adorable kitten-on-kitten massage video.
“Are You OK?” Stewart’s first broadcast after the 9-11 attacks was on September 20, 2001. He’d only been hosting the show for about two years at the time, having taken it over from Craig Kilborn. Reviews had been mixed up until that point. But the raw, eight-minute monologue that opened this episode is widely considered to be the moment when The Daily Show became his. After apologizing for starting “another entertainment show with an overwrought speech,” he spent the rest of the first segment fighting back tears — and not always successfully. “They said to get back to work,” he said. “But there were no jobs available for a man lying in the fetal position under his desk.”
“The Best Snow Team on Television” From reporting on a snowstorm that blanketed New York with more than twenty inches to the nearly ten-minute interview with Mayor Bill de Blasio to a segment on the then-still-unraveling New Jersey Bridgegate scandal, the February 3, 2014, episode might have been the New Yorkiest one Stewart ever taped. He even seemed self-conscious about devoting an entire episode to New York City, assuring the nation that he’d also “be talking about New Jersey.”
“There’s Porno Places, There’s Fast-Food Places, It’s a Vibrant Community. It’s New York.” Stewart has interviewed three sitting mayors since taking over the show. On August 6, 2011, he had then-mayor Michael Bloomberg on to discuss (remember this?) the ground zero mosque “controversy.” Bloomberg’s twelve years in office took up a sizable chunk of Stewart’s run on The Daily Show, and Stewart always knew how to turn the diminutive billionaire into a punchline — and he often did. But this was Bloomy at his best, defending Muslims’ right to worship wherever they damn well please and engaging Stewart in a meaningful discussion about free speech.