Another major shift in late-night comedy is taking shape as Comedy Central confirmed on Tuesday that Jon Stewart would be stepping down from The Daily Show "later this year." Stewart broke the news to a stunned audience at Tuesday’s taping that he would be exiting the satirical news program when his contract is up in September.
"For the better part of the last two decades, we have had the incredible honor and privilege of working with Jon Stewart," the network wrote in a message posted on Twitter. "His comedic brilliance is second to none. Jon has been at the heart of Comedy Central, championing and nurturing the best talent in the industry, in front of and behind the camera."
Stewart addressed his decision to step down from The Daily Show prior to the closing credits of Tuesday's show.
“[Viacom Entertainment Group president] Doug Herzog, [Comedy Central president] Michelle Ganeless and Comedy Central gave me an incredible opportunity 17 years ago to pilot this wonderful franchise. Seventeen years is the longest I have ever, in my life, held a job by 16 years and five months. The upshot there being I am a terrible employee. But in my heart it is time for someone else to have that opportunity,” he said to a stunned audience.
“Told ya, they didn’t know!” Stewart deadpanned, revealing that the actual date for his final episode was still in the works.
As for his post-Daily Show career, he says he doesn't have anything firmed up. "I don't have any specific plans," he said. "I'm going to have dinner on a school night with my family who I have
heard from multiple sources are lovely people. I'm not going to be here and try and sum up what this place has meant to be over the years... We'll get to that over time. I'm not going anywhere tomorrow. But this show doesn't deserve an even slightly restless host and neither do you."
As he fought back tears, Stewart called his coveted late-night post "an absolute privilege" and "an honor of my professional life." "I thank you for watching it, for hate-watching it, whatever reason you were tuning in for."
Stewart, who took over the "fake news" show in 1999, vaulted The Daily Show to a must-watch program and made it a major political presence. The Comedy Central program is the second longest-running program, after South Park, and helped launch the careers of notable alums such as Stephen Colbert, Steve Carell, John Oliver, Ed Helms and many more comedians and commentators.
Stewart took a three-month hiatus from the program in the summer of 2013 to direct his first feature film Rosewater. Oliver temporarily replaced Stewart as host of The Daily Show during that time before leaving for HBO to launch his own weekly talk show, Last Week Tonight.
In November, ET spoke to Stewart about the possibility of ending his long-running show. "The Daily Show will never end," he told ET at the Rosewater junket. "We can be in the ground and it'll still go on with my head in a box!"
The news comes just weeks after Comedy Central debuted The Nightly Report with Daily Show grad Larry Wilmore in the 11:30 p.m. time slot, the previous home of The Colbert Report. Colbert departed the network in December in preparation to take over for David Letterman on CBS’ Late Late Show later this year.
Comedy Central also said in its statement that The Daily Show will continue on without Stewart, and that the "unparalleled platform for political comedy" will "endure for years to come."
The Daily Show has long been considered Comedy Central’s crown jewel, winning the Emmy for Outstanding Variety Series from 2003 to 2012. Prior to Stewart's nearly two-decade stint, Craig Kilborn was at the helm from 1996-98.