Jon Stewart leaving The Daily Show

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Jon Stewart, who turned Comedy Central's The Daily Show into a sharp-edged commentary on current events, delivering the news in layers of silliness and mockery, said on Tuesday that he would step down after more than 16 years as its anchor.

The comedian, whose contract with the network ends in September, disclosed his plans during a taping of the show on Tuesday.

Saying that "in my heart, I know it is time for someone else" to have the opportunity he had, he told his audience that he was still working out the details of his departure, which "might be December, might be July".

"I don't have any specific plans," he said, at times seeming close to tears. "Got a lot of ideas. I got a lot of things in my head. I'm going to have dinner on a school night with my family, who I have heard from multiple sources are lovely people."

He added: "I'm not going anywhere tomorrow, but this show doesn't deserve an even slightly restless host, and neither do you."

Comedy Central did not elaborate on the future of the show, except to say it "will endure for years to come".

The announcement came after Comedy Central's other big name, former Daily Show correspondent Stephen Colbert, ended his tenure as star of a companion show, The Colbert Report, and left the network in December to succeed the retiring David Letterman as host of Late Show on CBS.

In becoming the United States' satirist in chief, Stewart imbued The Daily Show with a personal sense of justice. For a segment of the audience that had lost its faith in broadcast and print news outlets, he emerged a figure as trusted as former anchorman Walter Cronkite.

The Daily Show averages slightly more than 1 million viewers a night, a far smaller audience than his late-night competition on broadcast networks, but Stewart became disproportionately influential in American politics and culture.

Stewart, 52, became the host of The Daily Show in 1999, entering with the identity of a hardworking stand-up.

As recently as Monday night on the show, he had been taking aim at the recent scandal that has engulfed NBC news anchor Brian Williams, who on Tuesday was suspended without pay for six months. Stewart cast him as a journalist with a propensity for personal exaggeration and commented on the failure of the news media to more thoroughly question the underpinnings of the Iraq War.

Noting the widespread media coverage of Williams' woes, Stewart wryly said: "Finally someone is being held to account for misleading America about the Iraq War."

Created by Lizz Winstead and Madeleine Smithberg, The Daily Show had its debut in 1996 with former SportsCenter anchor Craig Kilborn.

During Stewart's tenure, The Daily Show won nearly two dozen Emmy Awards.

He made his directorial debut last year with the film Rosewater, adapted from a memoir by Maziar Bahari, a journalist who had been held prisoner in Iran after reporting on its disputed 2009 election.

Stewart told The New York Times that his desire to celebrate journalists like Bahari was no different than his impulse to make fun of others on The Daily Show.

"The only reason you mock something is when it doesn't live up to the ideal," he said. "There's a huge difference between what these journalists are doing on the ground and the perversion of it that is the 24-hour news networks."

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