Earlier this week Variety reported that The Daily Show, which has been without a permanent host since Trevor Noah left at the end of 2022, would return with no host this year, and instead use a rota of correspondents to lead the show. Technically, they’re right, as it is official that The Daily Show will continue without a permanent host in 2024, but the big headline is that Jon Stewart is returning to the show as a part-time host through the 2024 US election cycle.
The plan is for Stewart to host on Monday nights, while the rota of correspondents host Tuesday-Thursday. Stewart will also have an “oversight role” that could extend into 2025, though current producer Jen Flanz is still on board as the showrunner. Stewart was the host of The Daily Show during its most popular era, the Bush and Obama years, and while his replacement was tasked with bringing in a younger audience, as Stewart’s original college-aged audience had grown into their thirties and forties by the time he left, as I said before, trying to bring a new generation to The Daily Show doesn’t seem to be the goal this time. If anything, bringing Stewart back is a signal that Comedy Central wants to recapture that old magic from Stewart’s heyday, rather than invest in a new, younger audience.
I’m of two minds. In the long run, it’s short-sighted, you need a young, engaged audience to keep the show relevant, and a younger host more attuned to that audience would do better to accomplish that. Also, there is more competition now, The Daily Show isn’t the only satirical news program anymore, and Jon Stewart isn’t the only comedian delivering scathing news takes every night—or every week—anymore, either. You can’t put that genie back in the bottle.
But in the short term, this might be a good thing for the US election. I have a theory that had Jon Stewart stayed at The Daily Show through 2016, Trump doesn’t win that election. I felt his absence keenly in 2016, as legacy media was completely unprepared to push back on Trump, and Trevor Noah and the new Daily Show staff didn’t have their sea legs yet, and while their coverage wasn’t bad, it didn’t have Stewart’s authority or incisive bite. There were fence-sitters, “free thinkers”, and independent voters who might have listened to one scathing Stewart monologue and either voted the other way, or maybe not voted at all, either way changing the outcome of that election.
I know that sounds hyperbolic, but for a certain generation, Stewart had a direct line to their political will, and people actually did listen to him. I thought then and still think today—if Jon Stewart still had The Daily Show in 2016, that crap doesn’t happen, he could have been the factor that tipped the scales the other way. There actually WERE undecided voters who could be swayed, and the exact people who are susceptible to a bully’s message on TV are also susceptible to their favorite comedian telling them that guy is a bully and a boob and don’t be an asshole who votes for that.
So while I remain cynical about The Daily Show’s long term future, and Comedy Central’s, too, I do think it might be a net positive to have Jon Stewart back as a voice of reason during yet another critical US election cycle. Because there are still those people who insist on thinking both sides are the same—they’re both disappointing, that does not make them the same—but who might listen to their favorite comedian telling them not to vote for the bully, who might hear “they’re NOT the same” coming from that source. Although it probably doesn’t say anything good about America that I am hinging my hopes for a presidential election on the funny man on TV saving us from ourselves.