“Before Jon, we had no idea you could make a TV show where you play clips of another TV show and then said, ‘Boy, that other TV show sucks,'” Mr. Kimmel said. “He took on Fox News every night and he exposed their hypocrisy, their cynicism and lies – and thanks to his heroic work, they were never heard from again.”
But his impact was not lost on the world of comedy.
“He inspired a generation of imitators,” said Samantha Bee, another former correspondent who praised him for paving the way for other news satire shows that prod at politics, media and culture, including her own, “Full Frontal,” on TBS; “The Colbert Report”; and “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver.”
His influence was not limited to the United States.
“You are the origin story of every one of us,” said Bassem Youssef, an Egyptian comedian who was run out of his country after his own satirical news show, “Al Bernameg,” took on the government.
Mr. Stewart was also recognized on Sunday night for his activism and advocacy on behalf of emergency workers and veterans. Pete Davidson, the “Saturday Night Live” star whose father, a Brooklyn firefighter, died responding to the Sept. 11 attacks, thanked Mr. Stewart for the work he had done. That included Mr. Stewart’s emotional rebuke of Congress’s failure to secure funding for ailing victims, which led to the reauthorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund.
“If my dad were here,” Mr. Davidson said, “I know he’d be happy that you’re looking out for him and his friends after all these years.”
The prize itself, a bust of Mark Twain, was presented to Mr. Stewart onstage by John Feal, an advocate for survivors of the Sept. 11 attacks, and Sgt. Israel Del Toro, a wounded Air Force veteran.