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President Obama on the Daily Show, being interviewed by Jon Stewart.

Jon Stewart, who turned his biting and free-wheeling humour into an unlikely source of news and analysis to host The Daily Show, will leave this year.

Born as Jonathan Stuart Leibowitz, Stewart’s Jewish ethnic background often played a role in his sketches, although he was irreligious.

His departure was announced by Comedy Central president Michele Ganeless after Stewart, who has fronted the show since 1999, broke the news to the audience at a recording in New York.

“Through his unique voice and vision, The Daily Show has become a cultural touchstone for millions of fans and an unparalleled platform for political comedy that will endure for years to come,” Ms Ganeless said, calling the 52-year-old host a “comic genius”.

He will remain as host until later this year, she said, but did not specify his exit date or what led to his decision.

Reaction was swift from his admirers and, in some cases, likely past targets.

“Just had the honour of being the great Jon Stewart’s guest (on The Daily Show), where he announced he’s leaving. Emotional night,” David Axelrod, former adviser to President Barack Obama, said on Twitter.

A Jon Stewart sketch on Israel.