When you’re an American living abroad, you get used to the fear of bad news from home. When the phone rings bearing an unfamiliar American number, you wonder if someone is in the hospital. As your email loads in the morning, you imagine that something disastrous has happened overnight.
But nothing could prepare me for the punch in the gut I felt when I heard that Jon Stewart’s Daily Show reign was coming to an end. In saying goodbye to him, I wouldn’t just be losing a beloved decade-long tradition, I’d be bidding farewell to what had become my lifeline: a quick, easy, and casual way to keep in touch with family and, as a Jew living in Germany, to remember where I had come from.
Sure, I was already used to Skype-ing home twice a month and exchanging written updates with my family every few weeks. But our primary mode of communication, I recently realized, had become our email exchanges about The Daily Show.
They came at least once a week, the familiar subject line simply, “Daily Show,” and the body text just as cursory: “You must see tonight’s Daily Show!” or “Make sure you watch Jon Stewart from yesterday.” Only occasionally would they be embellished with further hints like “the one about de Blasio and the pizza” or “the segment on Putin and Brighton Beach.” It didn’t matter that I wouldn’t have the faintest idea what they were talking about until I actually watched the segment. Like so many other Daily Show devotees, I had come to view that late-night half-hour as my primary news source.
These short, pithy notes were more than just reminders to watch; they had become a form of reassurance that my parents were thinking of me—5,000 miles away in a land tragically bereft of decent Jewish comedians. Our laughter was ringing out across the Atlantic Ocean as we watched Jon Stewart in different homes and in different time zones.
In Berlin, meanwhile, it was no coincidence that the best educated, most worldly, and most politically aware of my German friends had also revealed themselves to be Stewart fans. The man had not only become a worthy representative of Americans abroad—putting the country in a positive, self-aware, self-deprecating light—he stood for a type of humor and a way of looking at the world that Germany had yet to adopt. Some of these friends were shocked to learn that Jon Stewart was Jewish, as his brand of humor strayed so far from the Woody Allen mold they had come to associate with Jewish comedy. On a more personal level, my nightly communion with Jon Stewart had become a means of shedding my own private guilt, no matter how fleeting, about living in Berlin.
Jews who defy the entreaties of parents and grandparents and move back to Germany have become a bit of a cliché, but no one warns you about those tiny pinpricks you feel as you stumble across another memorial you’ve never noticed before, or turn the corner onto the quiet, cobblestone street where your great-grandmother once lived. It’s easy enough to overlook the past when you live in a dynamic city the whole world wants to visit, but, every once in a while, I wonder if there’s something perverse about living in the German capital. Couldn’t it just have been London?
Aside from the chance to share laughter with parents far away and keeping up with current events in a home country I came to recognize less and less, The Daily Show gave me something else: As strange as it seems to admit, my nightly viewing ritual served as proof that I hadn’t become too German for my own good. Although the self-doubt could be overwhelming, especially as American media crowed about Europe’s latent anti-Semitism, as long as Jon Stewart was there to laugh with me, I was still just a New Yorker who happened to live in Berlin—and could always go home.
Giulia Pines is a New York-born, Berlin-based freelance writer and translator. Her work has appeared in Talking Points Memo, The Atlantic CityLab, Fodor’s, Jacobin, Kinfolk, Vice, and Slow Travel Berlin.