Jon Stewart's first monologue after the attacks of 9-11 wasn't as funny as his show openers usually were. But his moving, heartfelt speech, during which he struggled to hold back tears, foreshadowed the role that humor, and Stewart in particular, played during the contentious years that followed:
In his tearful speech, Stewart said that the Daily Show would be altered in the wake of the attacks. "Our show has changed, I don't doubt that. What it has become, I don't know."
It did change the show. After 9-11, through two wars, the Patriot Act, mass surveillance, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and more, Stewart and his Daily Show crew were America's court jesters. They used humor to remind us of the ugliest side of ourselves, and forced us to confront uncomfortable truths that we would have been far less willing to acknowledge if they hadn't come wrapped in giggles.
Not everyone liked that approach. And Stewart's light take on serious issues was certainly not for everyone. But he was undeniably a cultural force. It's strange to think of comedy news without him.