Jon Stewart is well on his way to canonization as the saint of smart, satirical TV news. (The Daily Show just released another of their weekly tributes to the outgoing host, introduced by New York Senator Chuck Schumer.) But even saints can explode, as related in this week’s episode of WTF With Marc Maron, in which former Daily Show writer and correspondent Wyatt Cenac discussed the events that lead to his departure from the show.
The center of the discussion—during which Cenac talked about his struggles with his family and career, and the life-saving effects of being hired by the show—hinged on an impression of African-American presidential candidate Herman Cain that Stewart deployed in 2011, which Cenac said made him “cringe” when he heard it. (Cenac was working on a field piece when the segment containing the impression made its way through the writers’ room.) When Fox News accused Stewart of racism as part of the ongoing feud between the two organizations, he and the Daily Show writers began constructing a response piece that Cenac—the only black writer on the show’s staff—found unnecessarily defensive. When he expressed those concerns, first through e-mail, and then multiple times in the writers’ room, eventually comparing the impression to the Amos & Andy character Kingfish, Stewart exploded, yelling, “Fuck off, I’m done with you,” repeatedly, and storming away.
According to Cenac, the comedian followed his boss to his office, unsure if he’d just been fired from the show. The discussion continued inside, with Stewart pointing out that Cenac had never protested against any of the host’s other impressions—including one of Schumer, who, like Stewart, is Jewish. As Cenac tells it, it was an extremely tense and loud scene, with Stewart eventually apologizing to the show’s staff for exploding, and Cenac retreating from the office to break down and cry. He left the program after one more year, which he described as being off-putting and miserable.
Obviously, this is only one side of the incident, and the story as Cenac tells it doesn’t paint Stewart as some sort of horrible, racist monster. Instead, he comes off as a victim of his own defensiveness and stress, with Cenac saying, “Sadly, I think that’s the thing in a job like that. Because you’re getting shots, from so many sides, you sometimes need an outlet to explode on. And that outlet became me.” Stewart’s last episode of The Daily Show is set to air on August 6.