Photo: Rick Kern/Getty Images for Comedy Central

Jon Stewart, the former host of "The Daily Show," opened up about his legacy and the current state of U.S. politics in an extensive interview with the New York Times, admitting that the "evisceration expectation" that encouraged him to platform people like former Fox News host Bill O'Reilly is the show's "worst legacy."

Why it matters: Stewart's popular parodies of cable news paved the way for a new generation of political comedy shows, including "The Colbert Report" and "Last Week Tonight." The comedian and film producer has stayed largely out of the public eye since retiring in 2015, but has continued to champion certain political causes.

The exchange:

  • NYT: "Fox, and Bill O’Reilly in particular, used to be your great foils. Now the emblematic Fox personalities are Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson. What does their ascendance represent for the network?"
  • STEWART: "I think they’re just the next level. As things progress, to get the same dopamine hit, you have to push it further. Although O’Reilly pushed it pretty far. The question was always, Why would you talk to him? Why do you have him on the show if you can’t destroy him? If you want to talk about the worst legacy of ‘‘The Daily Show,’’ it was probably that."
  • NYT: "That everyone you spoke to who you disagreed with had to be Jim Cramer’d?"
  • STEWART: "That’s right. That’s the part of it that I probably most regret. Those moments when you had a tendency, even subconsciously, to feel like, ‘‘We have to live up to the evisceration expectation.’’ We tried not to give something more spice than it deserved, but you were aware of, say, what went viral. Resisting that gravitational force is really hard."

The big picture: Stewart, who is coming out with a political satire film called "Irresistible" on June 26, also addressed Trump's presidency, failures of the media, and the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests in the wake of George Floyd's killing.

  • "The police are a reflection of a society," Stewart said. "They’re not a rogue alien organization that came down to torment the black community. They’re enforcing segregation. Segregation is legally over, but it never ended. The police are, in some respects, a border patrol, and they patrol the border between the two Americas."
  • "The policing is an issue, but it’s the least of it. We use the police as surrogates to quarantine these racial and economic inequalities so that we don’t have to deal with them."

But Stewart still expressed faith in American idealism: "The truth of the American experiment is that government is messy. It’s hard to manage. We are melding cultures and religions in a way that most countries don’t."

  • "But we have an exceptionalism that we have taken for granted, and we get lost in the symbolism of who we are rather than the reality. The reality of who we are is still remarkable."

Go deeper: Read the full interview

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