Exit Jon Stewart

Comedy Central confirms that the longtime Daily Show host will step down later this year.

Following a late-afternoon surge of speculation from attendees of Tuesday's taping of The Daily Show, Comedy Central President Michele Ganeless has confirmed that Jon Stewart will be leaving his post as the show's host later this year. Ganeless wrote:

For the better part of the last two decades, I have had the incredible honor and privilege of working with Jon Stewart. His comedic brilliance is second to none. Jon has been at the heart of Comedy Central, championing and nurturing the best talent in the industry, in front of and behind the camera.

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. Jon will remain at the helm of ‘The Daily Show’ until later this year. He is a comic genius, generous with his time and talent, and will always be a part of the Comedy Central family.

Stewart, 52, who took over hosting duties from Craig Kilborn in 1999, transformed the show into a must-watch nightly product across the political and cultural landscape.

As a vehicle for talent, The Daily Show under Stewart turned a number of its correspondents into bona fide stars in their own right, including Stephen Colbert, Steve Carell, Ed Helms, and John Oliver. As host, Stewart interviewed public intellectuals and heads of state, relentlessly satirized current events, and shone an incisive light on the missteps and hypocrisies of politicians and journalists alike, all under the guise of a "fake news" mantra that was both funny and substantive.

Back in 2008, the Pew Research Center's Journalism Project sought to diagnose exactly why The Daily Show was "clearly impacting American dialogue."

The Daily Show, in effect, constitutes yet another kind of alternative media—cable comedy. Some of the show’s sway as an information source could also come from language, and the sense that it is more candid, and thus somehow closer to one sense of accuracy than the more hidebound traditional media.

As a result, Stewart eventually became anointed as one of the "most trusted names in television" and the show scored dozens of Emmys along with countless other accolades.

Variety notes that "Stewart’s current contract is believed to end around the fall of 2015, and he is expected to stay until that time." But prior to the announcement, there were already signs that Stewart might have been considering moving on.

In 2013, Stewart took a 12-week hiatus from the show to make his directorial debut with Rosewater, a film about Maziar Bahari, a Iranian-Canadian journalist who was imprisoned in Iran and once made an appearance on The Daily Show. By Tuesday evening, social media was buzzing with an mixture of speculation and wishful thinking about Stewart's possible presidential ambitions⎯the ultimate nod to America's ultimate humble critic.