Jon Stewart brought his Daily Show to a close on Thursday night, and—after 45 minutes of looking back on the many faces that made the show, both on camera and behind the scenes, plus a speech that summed up the show’s core philosophy—it ended with a 10-minute segment that had nothing to do with anything that the show represented for the previous 16 years. In fact, for all its differences with David Letterman’s Late Show, it ended exactly the same way: Some famous rockers came out and played one or two of their hits.
I want to make it clear right now that my beef is not with Bruce Springsteen nor his E Street Band. I’m an unreserved fan of both, and there’s no song I’ve belted more often and more passionately at karaoke than that the last song they played on the Daily Show finale, “Born to Run.” And if there’s any rocker who makes a fitting closer for Jersey boy Jon Stewart, it’s Bruce Springsteen, who, it should be noted, put on a killer performance. (My feelings about the Foo Fighters, on the other hand, are beside the point.)
Because for all Springsteen meant to Stewart, and all the Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl meant to Letterman, the experience of watching Steven Van Zandt shred and Max Weinberg bang his skins has zero to do with what The Daily Show has meant to its fans night in and night out. In fact, one of the greatest things about the Daily Show was that it didn’t waste your time with a stupid band.
Even on a more traditional show like Letterman’s, there’s a reason late-night shows always put the musical performance last. That’s when the cost of alienating a portion of the audience is lowest, since most viewers have already fallen asleep anyway. But on a finale, it’s the opposite: The final moments are what matter the most. And no matter how beloved the performer is, there’s only one thing that literally every single viewer has in common: They all tuned in to watch the host. (Not to mention the fact that each of these comedians made their name with their edge, and nowhere does anyone lose their edge faster than in their musical taste.)
This is all not to say that I’m opposed to late-night hosts using their connections for One Last Shred on their last night on the job. I’d want one, too. Just save it for the credits! That’s what Stephen Colbert did, and—even more than his characteristically wacky sing-along—it was the most moving part of the whole finale. In his honor, for whenever we head into the next season of late-night farewells, I’d like to propose the Colbert Rule: If you must shred, shred beneath the credits.
Read more in Slate about Jon Stewart: