When Jon Stewart's run behind The Daily Show desk ends on Thursday, he'll have spent more than a decade at its helm—a feat that's even more notable for the speed with which he proved, when he took over the show in 1999, that comedy and news could be combined to make a something new.
But that doesn't mean that he was the first person to ever combine the two elements. In 2001, when TIME pulled together a whole issue devoted to performers and entertainers who were at the top of their games, Stewart was profiled as America's best talk-show host—and the man chosen to write about him was Dick Cavett, who knew more than a little bit about how difficult the job was. Jon Stewart and The Daily Show were, Cavett wrote, "a blessed wedding of performer and format." The craziness of the 2000 election season had given him the opportunity to shine, but the small moments were what mattered, Cavett said:
Repeat viewing of Stewart's shows reveals good things you missed the first time—smallish matters of voice shading, inflections and gestures begun but not completed. If you're a latecomer to his charms, you'll wish your alleged friends had demanded that you start watching a lot sooner. I'd like to see everything he has ever done.
That "everything" includes a whole lot more than it used to, but the sentiment still works.
Read the full Dick Cavett essay, here in the TIME Vault: America's Best