As viewers, we’re fortunate to live in a world where The Daily Show will continue as John Oliver leaves to start his own weekly talk show on HBO. So let’s not go pitting them against each other before the latter even has a name. But The Daily Show‘s farewell clip reel, which John Stewart surprised Oliver with on-air during Oliver’s final broadcast, underlined just what a valuable presence he’s been on the show. The Daily Show has proven itself to be the most resilient comedy franchise on TV, surviving first the departure of original host Craig Kilborn and the subsequent exodus of numerous irreplaceable talents: As a Daily Show without Oliver is nearly unthinkable, so it was without Steve Carrell or Stephen Colbert — and yet there always seems to be another Wyatt Cenac or Samantha Bee or Jessica Williams waiting in the wings.
Oliver certainly isn’t the most supple comic performer The Daily Show has ever known — the clip reel’s compilation of Oliver’s mock-Dickensian waifs pays nudging tribute to his limited range — but he’s a master of the conversational rope-a-dope on which the show’s field pieces thrive. (Watch him keep a straight face as a fiscal conservative lectures on how appearances matter while blithely standing in a Hawaiian convention center.) During his hosting stint over the summer, Oliver took care not to step on Stewart’s toes, beginning every episode with a reminder that the show’s “real” host would be back in a while, but he quietly outdid Stewart in the area his new show promises to focus on: interviews. With rare exceptions, Stewart’s interview segments are The Daily Show‘s weak link, although I’m grateful skipping over them makes it easier to catch up on missed episodes. But Oliver greeted his guests with fierce curiosity, regularly running over the time limit and kicking the rest to the web. The Daily Show will be fine without John Oliver. But John Oliver will thrive outside The Daily Show.