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The Greyhound

Can Jon Stewart’s “Daily Show” shoes be filled?


With the announcement of Jon Stewart’s departure from The Daily Show, many questions are arising over who will be his replacement. Many are now speculating who will replace Stewart as host of the late night Comedy Central show. But is there someone who could reliably pick up the show right away that is available? And could the best humorist for the job actually be one from the past?

Who is most likely to take Stewart’s place? Ask the question two years ago, and the answer would have been obvious: John Oliver. After his run hosting the show during the summer of 2013, while Jon Stewart was away shooting Rosewater in Jordan, many believed the correspondent would eventually become Stewart’s replacement. But the British comedian was so well received, that he got his own show, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver on HBO. One would most likely look to Stewart’s other correspondents for possibilities. Jason Jones most recently replaced Stewart while the host was sick for a day, but his performance was met with mixed responses.

It is worth noting that the position of correspondent and the position of host on The Daily Show require different skill sets. The elements of the specific commentary, typically relating to news or politics, aside, it is not enough to speak the jokes on the teleprompter; the host must bring a personality to the words and segments, and maintain the audience’s attention in earnest. There are also the issues of not only hosting the show, but also being largely in charge of making the show come together before it is shot for audiences. While all of the correspondents probably have some experience putting their field pieces together, as well as helping with the rest of the show’s content, it is a different matter entirely when one is at the head of it.

But ignore all the pitfalls of reality for a minute. Many commentators, including Jon Stewart himself, have discussed the host’s place among other satirists throughout history. He famously, or infamously, claimed to Chris Wallace on his appearance on Fox News Sunday that he has “existed in this country forever”, and made the comparison of himself to Mark Twain. Considering Jon Stewart’s tremendous impact on the political and journalistic atmosphere of the country for the past 17 years, regardless of whether one believes it was for better or worse, it’s difficult not to look for historical comparatives.

But suppose one take’s Stewart’s own comparison to Mark Twain: Twain was an apprentice printer starting out, before making his way through river boating, and eventually journalism and writing novels. Twain’s satire ranged from social constructs, to government, to perceptions of government, to interpretations of perceptions, and so on. Social criticisms were quite common in Twain’s writings. But could he host The Daily Show, assuming he possessed a working knowledge of the time in which it exists? He may have come from the profession Stewart mocks the most, but he certainly displayed the talent and command of the material in front of him necessary to put a twenty one minute show together, plus commercials. Problems may arise, however, in delivery, and maintaining the audience’s attention, night after night.

If there was ever a humorist more scathing of government corruption than any other, it would almost certainly be Will Rogers. A comedian, social commentator, and self-proclaimed enemy of the entire U.S. Senate, Rogers famously said “I don’t make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts.” Rogers came from a Vaudeville and acting career before making his way to print media, and eventually radio. His rise to stardom was not unlike Stewart’s, who began in stand-up before moving to television. Could the Senate’s most outspoken nemesis have taken the Comedy Central 11:00 p.m. spot? Rogers had the experience of public performance and delivery, as well as improvisation. But could he work well enough with other writers to get the job done? We’ll never know.

Beyond the correspondents, one would probably look to Saturday Night Live, as their spoof news segments are the closest thing to The Daily Show or other satirical news shows. The Daily Show already lost correspondent Michael Che to SNL; perhaps they could trade someone else back.

As far as comedians with the clout of Jon Stewart, who yet live, one could look to the likes of Jerry Seinfeld, Lewis Black or even Billy Crystal. The problem with all of these selections, however, is that they are all otherwise employed, or working on some other project. That seems to be the biggest problem with finding a solid replacement for Jon Stewart: It’s not for lack of great, recognizable talent; the talent is just already taken. Or dead. So perhaps they’ll just have to cultivate a new talent. Which might be best for everyone.

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Can Jon Stewart’s “Daily Show” shoes be filled?