For most of his 15-year tenure helming The Daily Show, Jon Stewart had a rogues’ gallery worthy of the name: A buffoonish, chuckling George W. Bush, a sinister Dick Cheney whose hunting mishap Stewart never forgot, Donald Trump and his bizarre habit of eating pizza with a fork, Jim Cramer and the false prophets of CNBC who failed to predict the Great Recession, an endless stream of Fox News anchors and pundits, and countless others. Politics itself had become comical, and Stewart rode the wave.
Stewart’s style of left-wing humor fed on the absurdity of his mostly conservative targets. His tried-and-true format was the clip-joke-clip-joke segment he’d use to open the show. First, he’d run a clip of a member of Congress or news anchor saying something absurd, followed by Stewart’s puzzled reaction—the straight-man foil to the news cycle’s comic tendencies. He’d then ask a reasonable question or make a reasonable inference, only to see his presumptions defeated by an even-more-absurd clip. Eventually, the tit-for-tat of real-world footage and Stewart’s incredulous mockery would crescendo into a short, semi-comedic insight, and then he’d cut to his first commercial break. The Daily Show had other segments, and Stewart often adjusted the format when necessary: A classic 2011 episode where he redesigned his set and personal mannerisms to mock then-Fox News Channel host Glenn Beck stands out. But the underlying mechanisms remained reliably funny.