Jon Stewart enters the home stretch of his 16 years on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" on Monday, with 12 more nights of jokes at the expense of those who make and report the news before he signs off for good on Aug. 6.
Stewart's exit, the latest in a year of upheaval in late-night television, will be felt most acutely over the next 15 months as the U.S. approaches its first presidential election since 1996 without his comic take.
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Attesting to Stewart's cultural import, President Barack Obama is booked for his seventh appearance on the show Tuesday.
Stewart, who started on "The Daily Show" in 1999, cited restlessness in announcing his exit last February. During a recent appearance on "The Daily Show," film director Judd Apatow said he sensed that feeling even before the announcement when he interviewed Stewart by phone for a just-released book.
"I think it was that one moment when you were saying, 'Oh, God, I'm out of gas. What am I going to do?'" Apatow said to Stewart's laughter.
When Seth MacFarlane mentioned that he was feeling burned out, Stewart told him, "Let me tell you my solution. Quit."
An audience member shouted out, "We love you!"
"That's not love," Stewart shot back. Love is taking soup to a sick friend. "Love is not saying, 'do more shows! Entertain me!'" he said.
Adam Lowitt, an executive producer on "The Daily Show," said he's had no sense his boss is second-guessing his decision.
"Even around the office, he seems to be relishing the place that he's in right now and taking in every aspect of the show and the people that work there," Lowitt said. "He's aware that time is winding down. Regret is not there."
Still, as Stewart stifled laughter before delivering a comic lecture directed at New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on the show last month, he couldn't resist the aside, "I'm going to miss this a little bit."
Stewart was animated, almost gleeful, on the day Donald Trump announced his candidacy for president. The jokes poured out — sometimes a facial expression or exaggerated New Yawk accent was all that was needed — as Stewart said Trump was putting him in a comedy hospice with injections of straight morphine.
Something about Trump is irresistible, even for retired comics. David Letterman resurfaced at a Steve Martin appearance in Texas earlier this month just to deliver a Top Ten list about Trump.
The day of Trump's announcement was one of those special times in the office that Lowitt said he'll always remember.
"Every moment was just better than the rest," he said. "Everyone was just beaming with excitement. That is something that I will definitely miss — knowing that this material is out there and the greatest performer is about to deliver on that in six hours."
Stewart's value was evident for a different reason after the Charlestown church massacre. He opened the show by admitting he had no jokes, then delivered an impassioned monologue on his frustration about the lack of will in combatting mass shootings. With Letterman's retirement, Stewart was the only person in late-night TV with the gravitas to pull that off.
As the days wind down for Stewart, the show has done a handful of self-deprecatory clip packages — Stewart breaking into song, complaining about his health or admitting to interview subjects that he hadn't read the book or seen the movie the guest was there to promote.
"I read the back cover," he explained meekly to author David Halberstam.
Letterman's recent leave-taking was a several-week build-up of visits from old friends leading to a pitch-perfect goodbye. The final episode of "The Colbert Report" on Comedy Central was predictably surreal and smart, although it could have used an editor.
Stewart is conscious of making the final few weeks relatively low-key, Lowitt said. His last show is in August, prime vacation time. "What he's always said is, 'We're just going to do the show that we do. We're not going to do something crazy or reinvent it,'" he said. Actors Paul Rudd and Jake Gyllenhaal and author Ta-Nehisi Coates are guests this week.
Stewart, who took the summer off two years ago to make a movie, hasn't said what he's doing next. Lowitt is staying on to work for Stewart's "Daily Show" successor, South African comedian Trevor Noah, who is essentially keeping the same staff when he starts on Sept. 28.
It ensures the sensibility of "The Daily Show" will remain, even if Stewart isn't.
Comedy Central is part of Viacom Inc.