A tearful Jon Stewart apologized for another "overwrought speech of a shaken host" as Comedy Central's news parody The Daily Show returned to television.

"We've had an unendurable pain, and I wanted to tell you why I grieve but why I don't despair," the comedian said, then stopped as he was overcome by emotion Thursday.

Stewart joined David Letterman, Jay Leno and other late-night hosts who opened their first shows since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks with somber speeches.

"Are you OK?" Stewart asked his audience. Many people had wondered how he would handle his show now, he said, then added: "I don't see it as a burden. I see it as a privilege."

He praised the open American society that allows for satire.

"That really is what the whole situation is about. It's the difference between closed and open. The difference between free and burdened."

But jokes about President Bush will be off limits for now, Stewart indicated.

"'Subliminable' is not a punch line anymore," he said, referring to the once-mocked Bush mispronunciation. "One day it will become that again ... Lord willing, because it will mean we've ridden out the storm."

The rest of the show was given over to past clips, including one of Stewart and ABC News anchor Peter Jennings hanging out at a political convention. Stewart teased himself at one point for having "a good cry."

The Daily Show, which runs four times weekly at 11 p.m. EDT, had been in reruns since the attacks. "Irony is dead for the moment," Comedy Central spokesman Tony Fox said of the decision.

The serious tone adopted by Leno's Tonight and Letterman's Late Show on their return earlier this week gave way within a day to comedy. Letterman had his list — "The top 10 things that almost rhyme with hat" — and Leno had his monologue again.

But they, like Stewart, had openly struggled with reconciling the gulf between their jobs as comedians and the national tragedy.

In his sometimes rambling speech, Stewart lauded police and firefighters as heroes, said the tragedy had helped remove barriers between Americans and recalled the slaying of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. as another great test of the country's fabric.

Stewart also noted the view he once had from his New York apartment: the World Trade Center.

"That symbol of American ingenuity and strength and labor and imagination and commerce is gone. You know what that view is now? The Statue of Liberty."

The show that started with tears ended with a puppy, which Stewart held up to the camera as a gesture of comfort.