In February, Jon Stewart shocked America – especially liberal America – when he announced he would no longer be hosting “The Daily Show.” It was a position Mr. Stewart occupied for 16 years, and he had become something of an iconic figure in America’s cultural and political life, influencing comedians like Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert, and John Oliver.
But on Monday night, Stewart returned to the set with new host Trevor Noah. This time, though, he sat in the guest’s chair.
His words were less satirical and more serious as he advocated for a cause he’s been a longtime advocate of: funding healthcare for the 9/11 first responders who worked at ground zero.
"So back in 2010, okay, after far more lobbying than should have ever been necessary, Congress passed what was called the Zadroga Act, funded healthcare for 9/11 first responders who'd gotten sick working at ground zero," Stewart said. “It’s soon going to be out of money.
"These first responders," said Stewart, "had to travel at their expense to Washington, D.C., hundreds of times to plead for our government to do the right thing.”
The James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act provision expired in September due to Congress’ failure to renew the bill.
Last week, Stewart and a team of former 9/11 responders visited Capitol Hill to speak with senators about the issue, hoping the visit would spur them to pass a permanent extension of the Act, which they didn’t.
“The only conclusion that I can draw is that the people of Congress are not as good as people who are the first responders,” Stewart added.
Stewart has for years been a major advocate for protecting the firefighters, many of whom have been diagnosed with chronic illnesses, after their work at ground zero in the days following the 9/11 attacks. In 2010, Stewart dedicated an entire show to raising awareness on the issue.
But Stewart’s legacy – and voice as a comedic journalist – extends well past the causes he’s taken up in his sixteen years on set. Stewart has been a major influence on young voters, and has been called a “modern-day Will Rogers and Mark Twain” by Arizona Sen. John McCain. In 2012, seventeen percent of voters said "The Daily Show" was their most trusted news source.
Stewart delivered a moving and famous monologue about free speech and comedy after the Charlie Hebdo killings in January. He became a frequent supporter of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D) of Massachusetts.
“It is a delicious irony that in the world of American TV news, one populated by raging egoists and self-aggrandisers, the person who is generally cited as the most influential is Stewart – a man so disinterested in his own celebrity, he often didn’t bother to collect his 18 Emmys, preferring to stay at home with his family,” writes Hadley Freeman for The Guardian. "Stewart would scoff, but, for liberals who care about American politics, his departure from 'The Daily Show' marks the end of an era."
The New York Times reports that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) Kentuckty, whom Stewart accused of hindering the bill for "purely political reasons" said that he supports the bill and wants its health program extended indefinitely, but that Congress still needs to find the funds for it.