During his tenure at The Daily Show, Jon Stewart's most emotional moment came when he addressed his audience in the studio and at home in his first monologue following the September 11, 2001 attacks. Stewart faced the cameras and was visibly shaken, breaking into tears several times throughout his monologue, and went off-script. By now, you have probably seen the video, which holds a different resonance and seems to have even more gravitas following Stewart's departure from The Daily Show on Aug. 6, 2015. "They said to get back to work," Stewart began, launching into an emotional and poignant speech about how crucial it is to remember that we live in a nation where a satirical news program is protected. "It's the difference between closed and open. It's the difference between free and burdened."
Stewart began hosting The Daily Show in 1999, so it's kind of crazy to think that his version existed for only two years before the attacks, but for 14 years following. September 11 changed the tone of the show, and that's something Stewart was immediately aware of.
Though he employed his typical sense of self-deprecation in the monologue saying it probably rang as repetitive, it was anything but. Even in the days immediately following the attacks, the late night host made sure to address the terrorist attacks with a sense of self-awareness. Getting personal, he said that his own New York apartment used to have a view of the World Trade Center, and in the aftermath, the view had changed:
Now it's gone. They attacked it. This symbol of American ingenuity and strength and labor and imagination and commerce, and it's gone. But you know what the view is now? The Statue of Liberty. The view from the south of Manhattan is the Statue of Liberty... You can't beat that.
Stewart said that was the reason that he grieved, but did not despair.
It's futile to try to sum up how his monologue will make you feel, but it is worthy to note that in the speech Stewart spoke with clarity about at least one thing: the effect 9/11 would have on his show. "Our show has changed," he said. "I don't doubt that. What it has become, I don't know."
What it became was so much more than a satirical news show. Stewart, from that day on, was committed to exposing the darkness of America as much as celebrating democracy. One of the things I loved most about The Daily Show was its awareness of the sense that the greatness of America lies in the very ability for hosts like Stewart to take to task the hegemony, the shortcomings and the hypocrisy that comes with being the leaders of the free world.
One of Stewart's last interviews on The Daily Show was with New York senator Kirsten Gillibrand, in which the two discussed the renewal of the World Trade Health Center program, a measure that helps people whose health was adversely affected by the attack. Next week, Stewart will join 9/11 first responders when they lobby Congress to renew the bill. Even though in his later years Stewart seemed more and more worn down by the "Chaos on Bullsh*t Mountain," I still believe what he said in that 9/11 monologue — that even now, he doesn't despair.