Jon Stewart’s Return Is Great for Comedy Central But Inconsequential for Everyone Else
Well, well, well, look who the cat drug in. After Comedy Central announced just a few days ago that The Daily Show would forego hosts of any kind in favor of a cost-conscious rotation of current correspondents, it did an about-face with today’s announcement that prodigal son Jon Stewart is returning for the election cycle. Stewart will only host once a week — on Mondays — but it’s still a coup for a network known more these days for South Park and Office reruns than just about anything else.
One imagines that there’s plenty of high-fiving at Comedy Central headquarters today. While Trevor Noah’s version of The Daily Show was popular enough, it’s been a long time since the show had the cultural relevance it enjoyed during Stewart’s heyday. “In our age of staggering hypocrisy and performative politics, Jon is the perfect person to puncture the empty rhetoric and provide much-needed clarity with his brilliant wit,” gushed a statement from Chris McCarthy, President/CEO of Showtime/MTV Entertainment Studios.
Of course, Stewart is the perfect person! For Comedy Central, anyway. Stewart makes The Daily Show immediately relevant again in a way that Hasan Minhaj, Roy Wood Jr. or Leslie Jones never could have. They would have simply been “the new host.” That’s not Michael Jordan coming out of retirement to lead the ‘90s Chicago Bulls to three more championships. A massive ratings bump is virtually guaranteed, at least for the first few months, as curious viewers tune back in to a show they haven’t watched for a decade. Bring David Lee Roth back to Van Halen, and the tour will sell plenty of nostalgia tickets.
So go ahead and high-five, network execs. But what’s good for Comedy Central won’t necessarily move the needle for anyone else, including…
Current Daily Show Correspondents
As we've already told you, Stewart’s return pushes the rest of the show’s players into the background. Right or wrong, viewers will think of The Daily Show as The Stewart Show, with Dulcé Sloan, Ronny Chieng, Jordan Klepper, Desi Lydic and Michael Kosta singing back-up to the icon’s lead vocals. Earlier this week, it felt like everyone was getting a promotion. It sure won’t feel that way around The Daily Show office now.
Unfortunately for both The Daily Show and Stewart, it’s not 2007 anymore. In the last gasps of monoculture, Stewart provided a smart, out-of-left-field voice speaking truth to power about the idiocy of government and corrupt big business. Stewart was competing against Jay Leno’s milquetoast monologues, which poked fun at Bill Clinton’s promiscuity and George Bush’s malaprops but never anything of consequence.
In 2024, Stewart’s rants will go head-to-head with the left-leaning diatribes of Stephen Colbert, John Oliver, Jimmy Kimmel and Seth Meyers, all of whom are doing a version of what The Daily Show originated 20 years earlier. (Heck, Colbert and Oliver learned how to do it there.) Stewart will be part of a chorus now, not the lone voice with the courage to stand up to whatever’s ailing America. Is Donald Trump worried about Jon Stewart? Is Joe Biden? It’s hard to imagine what Stewart could say that hundreds of armchair pundits aren’t posting on Twitter/X as we speak.
Stewart’s biggest competition won’t be Colbert or Kimmel but the memory of mid-2000s Jon Stewart. You can already hear the cries of “He’s not as funny as he used to be,” “He’s lost his fastball” or “That’s exactly what woke libtards want you to think.” Will any of that be true? It doesn’t really matter. The myth of Jon Stewart as young America’s source for the real news is too powerful — the culture has changed and The Daily Show can never be what it represented at that specific moment in time.
Stewart tried to evolve the conversation (and his own shtick) on his Apple TV show The Problem with Jon Stewart, a deeper, more serious look at the cracks in America's moral infrastructure. But America either couldn’t find it, didn’t want to hear it or no longer found it all so funny. Unfortunately for Stewart, there’s no winning here.
I’d love to see him prove me wrong. He’s got one day a week to do it.