Can “The Daily Show” continue with Jon Stewart? It seems unimaginable now, less than 24 hours after the taping at which Stewart announced he would retire later this year. But Comedy Central isn’t about to let its flagship franchise slip away; compared to cranking out a season of “Chapelle’s Show” without Dave Chapelle, putting another name after “The Daily Show With…” is small potatoes.
The Internet is already rife with speculation about who should succeed Stewart. Most attention, sensibly enough, is focused on current “Daily Show” correspondents; Jessica Williams and Samantha Bee lead the pack, with John Hodgman, Jordan Klepper, Kristin Schaal, Aasif Mandvi, Michael Che and practically anyone else who’s spent more than five minutes on the show being shoved out from the wings. Other popular choices: Amy Poehler, John Oliver, Aisha Tyler, Joel McHale, Tina Fey — all of whom seem extraordinarily unlikely to take the job, but don’t let that get in the way of what’s quickly turning into “Daily Show” ‘shipping.
Stewart may seem irreplaceable, but then so, 16 years ago, did original host Craig Kilborn, whose sardonic frat-boy air embodied what was then “The Daily Show’s” penchant for skewering easy targets. Stewart had little history of political comedy, but then, the “Daily Show” of the late ’90s wasn’t a political show so much as one devoted to the mockery of political shows: Newscaster Say the Darndest Things.
“The Daily Show” changed under Stewart, and perhaps it changed him as well. Despite its dedication to calling out overheated rhetoric at all points of the political spectrum, the show dropped the pretense of even-handedness: Republics and Democrats, Fox News and MSNBC, were not, as it turned out, equal offenders. Although he never stopped painting himself as a court jester, Stewart grew increasingly comfortable stepping onto a soapbox, ensuring that the generation raised on his version of news wouldn’t grow up entirely disillusioned with the political process. He took the tradition of comedian as truth-teller and followed it past the point where every bit had to end with a punchline.
It’s far too early to know who Comedy Central might seriously consider to fill Stewart’s chair; based on the network’s hurried statement issued over social media last night, it seems not even they knew the timing of his announcement. But one thing is for sure: People searching for a candidate to fill a Stewart-sized hole are looking in the wrong place. John Oliver’s turn at the desk last summer while Stewart was off shooting “Rosewater” proved that the show’s infrastructure is sturdy enough to survive the absence of its iconic host. (It’s not as if Jon Stewart is the one editing the show’s montages or filing its field pieces.) But Oliver graciously opened every episode with a reminder that he was just a temp doing Stewart’s show. With “Last Week Tonight,” Oliver has shown us what a topical half-hour that thoroughly reflects his own sensibilities looks like, and in the process made “The Daily Show” seem just a hair behind the times.
“The Daily Show” is now an established institution, and it’s a safe bet that whoever ends up taking over for Stewart will ease the transition by taking things slow. But the show needs to evolve to fit them, just as it did to fit Stewart. But if a new “Daily Show” host is to succeed, it won’t be by taking Stewart’s place; it will be by making their own.
More thoughts on Jon Stewart’s departure from “The Daily Show”
David Sims, The Atlantic
This isn’t like Letterman retiring in May after 33 years, or Johnny Carson, who called it quits after 30. “The Daily Show” remains a keystone in the television landscape, an essential check on the unending flubs and offenses of cable news, particularly with a presidential election around the corner. Judging by the tenor of responses on social media, few are ready to see him go.
Tim Goodman, Hollywood Reporter
You can’t replace Jon Stewart. The show will undoubtedly go on and Comedy Central will find someone to take over the reins who will valiantly try to keep the standards high and the relevance there. John Oliver proved over the summer, when Stewart was off making his movie Rosewater, that an orderly transition of leadership is possible and that idiots everywhere, but particularly in Washington D.C., will get their due comeuppance via hilarious public flogging. “The Daily Show” — a watchdog on the media, done with humor but often done so much better than those whose sole job that is, will continue. Ignorance will be roasted. Incompetence will be outed. Bullshit will be detected. That still doesn’t mean that Stewart will be replaced.
Jason Zinoman, New York Times
“The Daily Show” didn’t just offer insightful, cutting analysis, clever parody and often hard-hitting interviews with major newsmakers. For an entire generation, it became the news, except this report could withstand the disruption of the Internet far better than the old media. If anything, the web only made “The Daily Show,” with its short segments, more essential. Every time a political scandal exploded or a candidate made headlines or a cable fight went viral, the first thought for many viewers was: I can’t wait to see what Jon Stewart will say about this.
Will Leitch, Bloomberg
Even if you were more a fan of Stephen Colbert’s absurdity than Stewart’s occasional look-at-these-idiots grandstanding — a stylistic, subjective preference rather than one that makes much of a judgment on effectiveness — the influence of Stewart is really quite staggering. Stewart turned a show that was once a tired retread of SNL’s “Weekend Update” into a manifesto of impotent rage, the one sane man screaming at a world gone mad. What Stewart was doing wasn’t satire: It was the simply calling of bullshit, every night, when no one else was doing so, when the country was pleading for it. It was brilliant, and it was transcendent.
James Poniewozik, Time
Stewart wasn’t an actual news anchor. What his show did with comedy was a kind of journalism nonetheless, using satire and some thorough research of source material to analyze the news and analyze its analysis. Any honest media critic knew that Stewart was doing the job better than the rest of us. His show turned TV’s own tools and language against it to spotlight buffoonery, bad faith, hot air, and hypocrisy. Do the same thing in print and you’re an op-ed columnist. Stewart and company simply managed to do it in a format that people paid attention to.
Andy Greenwald, Grantland
All late-night shows come to reflect the personality of their hosts, from David Letterman’s chilly absurdism to Jimmy Fallon’s shameless charm. “The Daily Show” is notable for its abundance of decency, the way Stewart — one of the best stand-ups alive, by the way — happily transformed himself into a selfless straight man for correspondents old and new.
Linda Holmes, NPR
Much will be said in the months to come about Jon Stewart’s “Daily Show” legacy, but on the night of this announcement, it seems somehow apt that Stewart’s fake-news departure is hopelessly tangled in media news with the suspension of Brian Williams from NBC’s flagship nightly news program. There’s a fine line at times between news and comedy. A fine, fine line — and Jon Stewart will soon leave it to others to stomp on it.
Hank Stuever, Washington Post
“Daily Show” viewers’ loyalty and sentimentality may treat this news as an unthinkable development (consider how many young Americans have hardly known an election cycle without Stewart’s sardonic interpretation of the news and noise), but it’s entirely thinkable to anyone who began to sense, some years back, that Stewart and company had perfected the form and could advance it no further.
Keith Harris, Useful Noise
Stewart had come to epitomize a smug liberal pessimism that would irritate me less if I didn’t recognize it as a sensibility that could easily become my own center of political gravity. Sure, in the background was some rather pathetic hope that American politics might magically right itself — that someone might finally express, in just the right sentences, the ideas all reasonable people surely believed, and then The People would shake off their stupor and accept the truth. But mostly Stewart’s disgust with the slow-grinding machinery of the small-r-republican form of government felt rooted in a revulsion with stupidity that seemed more aesthetic than moral and has since become a widespread substitute for political belief.
Jamelle Bouie, Slate
The natural response to all of this is a version of Stewart’s protest—He’s just a comedian—and a refrain from “The Dark Knight”: Why so serious? The answer is easy: He’s influential. And for a generation of young liberals, his chief influence has been to make outrage, cynicism, and condescension the language of the left. As a comedian and talk show host, Jon Stewart has been pretty funny. But as a pundit and player in our politics, he’s been a problem. And while I wish him luck in his next move, I’m glad he’s stepping from the stage.
So stupidly fucking sad about Stewart. I grew up with him. When all else seemed insane it was him teaching us about comedy and the world.
— Ricky Camilleri (@RickyCam) February 11, 2015
— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) February 11, 2015
Washington is rigged for the big guys – and no person has more consistently called them out for it than Jon Stewart. Good luck, Jon!
— Elizabeth Warren (@elizabethforma) February 11, 2015
Jon Stewart is quitting to spend more time with your and his imaginary babies.
— Sara Benincasa (@SaraJBenincasa) February 10, 2015
Says it all that Jon Stewart leaving = bigger blow than any actual anchor leaving.
— James Poniewozik (@poniewozik) February 10, 2015
Jon Stewart leaving The Daily Show so soon after Colbert ended feels like when those old couples are so close they have to die together
— Caroline Darya (@carolineframke) February 10, 2015