UPDATES with Stewart's words of farewell and cultural impact: In a move that will rock Comedy Central to its core, the channel announced Tuesday that Jon Stewart is leaving at the end of the year.
"For the better part of two decades, we have had the incredible honor and privilege of working with Jon Stewart," a statement from Comedy Central said. "Through his unique voice and vision, The Daily Show has become a cultural touchstone for millions of fans and an unparalleled platform for political comedy that will endure for years to come."
The statement from the channel went on to say, "Jon will remain at the helm of The Daily Show until later this year."
Coming on the heels of Stephen Colbert leaving for CBS as David Letterman's replacement and John Oliver having departed for HBO, Comedy Central faces a huge challenge in trying to retain anywhere near the kind of audience and cultural clout it enjoyed thanks largely to Stewart.
Stewart started with the program in 1999. He took over from Craig Kilborn, and in what he termed a 17-year run Tuesday during the taping of his show, has changed the dynamics of how young adults consume news and learn about national politics.
What Stewart has accomplished at Comedy Central is one of the most significant cultural stories in the history of television.
Stewart joked about the length of his run at Comedy Central as he announced his impending departure to a studio audience Tuesday.
"I am a terrible employe," he said, adding that his tenure as host of the "Daily Show" is about 16 years longer than that at any other job he held. "But in my heart I know it is time for someone else to have that opportunity."
As to the date of his departure, Stewart said, "might be December, might be July."
His contract ends in September, and he and Comedy Central are "working out details," he said.
Stewart was equally vague about future plans, saying, "I don't have any specific plans... Got a lot of ideas. I've got a lot of things in my head."
He did say he was going to spend more time with his family.
"I'm going to have dinner on a school night with my family, who I have heard by multiple sources, are lovely people," he said.
"It's been an absolute privilege. It's been the honor of my professional life. And I thank you for watching it, for hate-watching it. Whatever reason you are tuning in for!" Stewart said trying to speak to the emotion of the momentous annoucement.
"You get in this business with the idea that maybe you have a point of view and something to express — and to receive the feedback from that is the greatest feeling I could ask for."
Jon Stewart definitely has a point of view - one that veers to the left of the dial. And his keen satiric instinct sometimes went awry when friends were involved - as when he attacked CNN in 2011 for its aggressive reporting nof the sexting scandal involving his friend, Anthony Weiner, who was then a congressman.
For all its failure, MSNBC, furthermore, never took the kind of pounding at his hands that Fox News did - whether his attacks were accurate or not.
But with a performer of Stewart's stature, the ideology doesn't matter as much as the art.
The comedic art he made out of that take on politics changed not just media, but American politics and life.