You've probably already heard that Jon Stewart emerged from retirement last Thursday to appear on The Late Show, hosted by his friend Stephen Colbert. Indeed, the clip has gone viral. But the appearance of the former Daily Show host is even more significant because he's not just any well-loved comedian doing a 10-minute spot on a popular evening show.
When I was in college, my Political Science professor told us that more young people got their news from The Daily Show With Jon Stewart than from any other news program. The irony, for those unfamiliar, is that The Daily Show is not meant to be a news program; it is a humor-filled investigation of the news. Unlike news programs that present the news through the lens of their political leaning, The Daily Show presumes you've already heard the news, and presents a commentary on select news items each day in an entertaining fashion. Though the show has a liberal tilt, it does not hesitate to point out hypocrisy and questionable behavior on all sides of the political sphere.
Stewart's visit on The Late Show is further popularized by its limited nature as a one-off event. It is human nature for people to care more for a single occurrence when something is uncommon over when it becomes mundane. Marketers often capitalize on this by appealing to fears of scarcity, knowing that "today only" and "limited quantity" will create a now-or-never urgency reaction. Stewart's singular appearance follows the same valuation, increasing interest to well above what his average daily viewership was on The Daily Show. Add to that the nostalgia for Stewart and posting about his appearance filling news feeds on social media and news channels, and it's no surprise that the video has over 12 million views.
But unlike a YouTube video of a cat and a baby becoming friends which can also accrue millions of views, this video has far-reaching ramifications. Multitudes of 18-29 year old voters used to rely on Stewart for their news and had faith in the accuracy of his reporting and his opinions (41 percent of his audience identify as independents, the demographic that typically decides an election.) They still trust Stewart, and remember him for pointing out hypocrisy and questionable behavior in politics, and that's exactly what he gave them. He avoided contentious individual issues, instead focusing on overarching candidate themes, and, as he famously did for years, allowed pundits and politicians to prove themselves inconsistent through the use of archival video footage of the pundits and politicians themselves.
So yes, Jon Stewart emerging from retirement is an opportunity to watch another monologue from the comedic legend. But as a very intelligent public personality, he recognized that he was uniquely positioned to make a poignant statement with a wide ripple effect that could have an exponential impact on this election.