Replacing Jon Stewart — Some Better Choices, and the Obvious Best One

Jeff Goldblum

by Gabriel Valdez

Let’s get this out of the way first: NOT Brian Williams. In the wake of Jon Stewart’s announcement that he’s leaving The Daily Show later this year (most likely to become a full-time director), some voices across the internet have trolled the zeitgeist by suggesting Williams. Instead of getting the “fake news” joke, others have echoed the suggestion. No. Let’s put a stop to this right here.

Regardless of his fictional story about being shot at and his 6-month suspension from NBC News, do you want to hear every joke delivered in the same deadpan, aren’t-I-clever rhythm over and over again? Neither do I. Williams works in brief snippets, or even when leading a serious news show (at least when he doesn’t insert himself into the story). He would be a disaster at leading a nightly comedy series.

Let’s also keep John Oliver where he is. HBO is a better format for him, allowing him to condense one week into a single show that he can swear a blue streak across. Last Week Tonight is the best format for Oliver. We’ve seen him host The Daily Show for an extended period of time before and he’s good at it, but he’s great in HBO’s looser format. Why lose that for a distillation of Oliver? It’s a pipe dream anyway, since I’m sure HBO wouldn’t let him out of that contract anytime soon.

So who do I think are the best options to replace Jon Stewart?

Jessica Williams Daily Show

JESSICA WILLIAMS

This choice is so obvious, I can’t dream that Comedy Central could recognize it in a million years. Like Stewart, she rarely plays a character, coming across as more of a genuine comedian than an actor-comedian. The Daily Show correspondents who rely on characters more often – Jason Jones, Kristen Schaal, Samantha Bee, John Hodgman – use those characters to excel in investigative and interview segments, but they aren’t as well-suited to host an entire show.

Ringleaders can’t rely on being one-note comedic foils. Even Stephen Colbert on The Colbert Report needed to infuse his conservative character with enough of himself to step outside and around that character on a regular basis. He needed to make fun of himself as often as he did the character he played or the news he lampooned.

I have no doubt in my mind that Jessica Williams is dynamic enough to do this. She also seems to have more of a vision for where she wants her comedy to take us and what she wants it to speak about, and that’s needed to manage the creative direction of a show. To step into the shoes of Jon Stewart and do more than hold the fort for a few months, you have to be pointed and decisive about where the show’s heading. That has Jessica Williams written all over it.

She is the best choice. Period. End of story. Sign the petition.

But in case you want some other options:

Craig Ferguson Late Late Show

CRAIG FERGUSON

Give Craig Ferguson the show he’s always wanted. It seems like bad form to dig through other people’s discards, but Ferguson has been the most interesting late night personality on network television for years now. CBS just never “got” his brand of humor.

Ferguson often lamented on the The Late Late Show that his ideal format would simply be to sit down with a personality and discuss for the entire length of a show anything at all that came up. CBS allowed him to do this exactly once. Ferguson chose Stephen Fry and the ensuing discussion ranged from hilarity to a frank conversation about dealing with depression. It was fascinating – perhaps not always funny, but neither is The Daily Show. It was relevant, and that relevancy is what Jon Stewart takes with him. Funny is easy to get on Comedy Central. Relevancy isn’t.

Ferguson is wacky, but he’s deceptively capable – he won a Peabody for his Desmond Tutu interview. He also connects emotionally in a way no other late night host can – he once opened his show with a 10 minute, tearjerking monologue about when he was an addict and considered killing himself. He knows how to disarm a guest and an audience, and he doesn’t follow late night conventions. For my money, he would be the most interesting choice, the biggest chance with the biggest payoff.

Bassem Youssef

BASSEM YOUSSEF

Known as the Egyptian Jon Stewart, he was such a thorn in his government’s side that he was arrested for insulting Islam and President Morsi. His comedy relies on strengths that Stewart’s doesn’t, which is what you really want in a replacement: he’ll charm his way through a segment where Stewart would play at bumbling or being surprised by a revelation. There’s a little more nodding and winking to Youssef.

Youssef also brings a different life experience: he’s a cardiothoracic surgeon who served as a field medic for wounded protesters during the 2011 revolution. You might say he’s more familiar with Middle Eastern politics than American ones, but he’s certainly far more qualified on both than Stewart was when he first took over The Daily Show.

Glenn Beck

GLENN BECK

I’m just seeing if you’re paying attention.

Sarah Silverman

SARAH SILVERMAN

Honestly, this would be the best single way to maintain the format of The Daily Show exactly how it is while infusing it with a completely different voice and set of priorities. The writers, producers, and supporting cast there are good enough to train someone on the job when it comes to the political side of The Daily Show. Hell, that could even be the running bit: Silverman as an opinionated neophyte playing an analogue for the audience when it comes to learning about corporate political issues.

This would end up being more of an ensemble piece, at least at first, but a top-notch late night ensemble is the one thing The Daily Show already boasts that no other late night show can.

Russell Brand

RUSSELL BRAND

Brand hardly needs the money or exposure. In fact, The Daily Show would almost certainly be a pay downgrade for him. It would give him, however, what he’s sought most in recent years – a ready-made platform to take down a poisonous news media atmosphere from equal footing.

What shape would the show take? Who knows? Could Brand be relied upon for years on end? You’ve got me. But it’s a chance that might be worth taking, and the upside could be huge.

Patton Oswalt

PATTON OSWALT

Comedy’s nerd-in-residence might not be as equipped to tackle politics and corporate America, but he’s a quick study and he’s already well-schooled in every single weird cultural nuance America now enjoys. He’s a quick wit, though I don’t know if he has the ego or vision to master The Daily Show. He’s essentially the best hold-the-fort candidate, a direction I don’t think Comedy Central should go. If they do, though, Oswalt’s the one to make it work.

KANYE WEST & BECK

OK, just kidding.

KANYE WEST & GLENN BECK

Still kiddi- actually, I’d watch the hell out of that.

Olivia Munn

OLIVIA MUNN

This is the most out-of-left-field suggestion. I get that a lot of people won’t agree with it, but I think she’s most capable of finding new humor by transitioning The Daily Show into something even more serious. Why take a comedy show and make it more serious? That’s what a lot of people asked about Jon Stewart way back when.

I know the tendency is to dismiss her and guess that she only ever got a Daily Show gig in the first place because of her looks, but this argument tends to ignore much of her resume.

Irin Carmon’s famous Jezebel takedown – that questioned Munn’s credentials and insisted she was a sex symbol and not a comedian, as if the two are mutually exclusive – ignored an obsessive work ethic that saw Munn essentially carry the G4 network on her back for years and years.

Come to think of it, Munn’s the only one on this list with a degree in journalism and she’s actually got more experience hosting a show than everyone else but Craig Ferguson.

Tina Fey 2

TINA FEY

I can’t imagine this is the direction Fey wants to take her career. Hosting The Daily Show would take her away from her full-time role as a producer and writer while closing opportunities out to her as an actress.

So don’t bring her in as a host.

There are more roles that Jon Stewart plays on The Daily Show than hosting. Bring Fey in as a new producer. To create something bold and fresh, there’s no better behind-the-scenes voice to draft at this point than Fey.

Jeff Goldblum 3

JEFF GOLDBLUM

Because: Jeff Goldblum. This would take the show in a more celebrity angle than political one, but it would be appointment viewing. He obviously loves working with Stewart’s operation, given that he’s appeared on Daily Show and Colbert Report bits countless times.

There are a host of other options – most notably Tig Notaro, but also Wyatt Cenac, Alec Baldwin (no), Chris Rock, Aisha Tyler, Norm Macdonald (he already bombed trying to riff it), Cameron Esposito, and so many others.

The gig is certainly going to be in high demand, and Comedy Central shouldn’t act out of desperation when choosing Jon Stewart’s replacement. They should go with someone challenging, someone they want, and not someone they feel they need.

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4 thoughts on “Replacing Jon Stewart — Some Better Choices, and the Obvious Best One”

  1. John Oliver is the obvious choice in my opinion and I think a really good one.

    Jessica Williams is an interesting choice but (and I wish we lived in a world where it didn’t matter) given that they already have Larry Wilmore hosting the Nightly Show I doubt they turn to another black host for demographic reasons.

    Amy Pohler would be interesting and given the imminent completion of Parks and Rec she may be available.

    I like Craig Ferguson too, he would be fun

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think not considering Jessica Williams would be an example of responding to someone else’s demographics, not to Comedy Central’s, which lean younger and more liberal.

      CC also does really well with shows that feature minority personalities, and they’ve gotten away from that a little bit. I don’t think there should be a fear of it and, if anything, I think the potential upside of re-drawing African-American viewers outweighs the downside of losing viewers who would respond negatively to an African-American host (who probably don’t watch much CC to start with).

      Like

  2. I’ve been saying Craig Ferguson all along. No matter how much I read about and consider other possibilities… I always wind back to Ferguson as the top of the list. My second choice would be Olivia Munn. However, truly I believe the format would be best handled by Craig Ferguson.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jessica Williams just announced that she’s pulled her name out of the list and that she wants to keep being a correspondent. Without her, I think Craig Ferguson jumps to the top of my list, with Munn right behind. I think people seriously underestimate her.

      Like

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