Jon Stewart is returning to his old perch on "The Daily Show" — but only part-time. (Photo/Comedy Central)
Jon Stewart is returning to his old perch on "The Daily Show" — but only part-time. (Photo/Comedy Central)

Jon Stewart is coming back to ‘The Daily Show.’ Will his old audience follow?

This story was originally published in the Forward. Click here to get the Forward’s free email newsletters delivered to your inbox.

Time was when everyone I knew watched “The Daily Show.” But will they watch it again when Jon Stewart returns in February?

During the George W. Bush years and the Obama administration, Stewart ruled the roost of political comedy. His monologues, interviews and correspondents who spun off to their own desks, weren’t just topical — they were cool. I mean, they published a textbook with photos of naked Supreme Court justices. Who does that?

Stewart left the show in 2015 and, with the rise of a reality show commander in chief and a superlatively dysfunctional government, every late night show began indulging in political satire. John Oliver, who gained exposure as Stewart’s fill-in host, gained eyeballs with “Last Week Tonight” on HBO. Stephen Colbert, out of character from his “Colbert Report” persona, debuted a surprisingly partisan “Late Show.” Even Jimmy Fallon, after ruffling candidate Trump’s hair, donned a rust-colored wig and entered the overpopulated field of bad impressions of our 45th president. 

“The Daily Show,” with new host Trevor Noah, plummeted in popularity, averaging nearly 1 million fewer viewers and sinking 81 percent in the key demographic of 18-49 at the time of his departure in 2022, per IndieWire. The show did a bit better with a rotation of guest hosts in 2023, but was still nowhere near the height of Stewart’s reign.

And so, the news that Stewart — who lately has kept busy lobbying for 9/11 first responders, directing a couple movies and leading a now-cancelled AppleTV+ showwill host his old program on Mondays, offers an interesting test of the comedian’s appeal. Was Stewart the secret sauce that made “The Daily Show” a hit, or did he benefit from being the only game in town?

Airing at 11, and now with a 45-minute format (in Stewart’s day it was 30), he will run into the monologues of his old colleague Colbert and the rest of the late night crew who took on a more political bent in the twilight of his tenure and the dawning of the age of Trump.

It remains to be seen if Stewart will boost the show’s ratings on Monday nights or if he’ll, as in “The Problem with Jon Stewart,” mix up the formula by hyperfocusing on one issue per episode. 

Much is still unknown, but Stewart, who is also joining as executive producer, is said to be staying on through the election in November, a stretch of time where we will all sorely need many moments of zen.

This article was originally published on the Forward.

PJ Grisar
PJ Grisar

PJ Grisar is the Forward’s culture reporter. He can be reached at [email protected].