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Essay: Why I’m Annoyed at Jon Stewart’s Hiatus and his Choice of Interim Host

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StewartJon Stewart began his three month hiatus from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart to go and direct a movie this week. Unlike others in the entertainment news blogosphere I’m not remotely tired of Stewart or of his alleged “tics” and am not happy about this development.

Stewart is both a) an adult man and b) a multi-millionaire entertainer and is of course free to pursue whatever ventures he chooses. He’s also probably not too worried about what random word-slingers on the internet are saying about his choices. That still doesn’t mean that I, a voracious consumer of the entertainment product he produces, have to be happy about his choice to take a break.

When news of the upcoming hiatus was first announced on twitter awhile back I saw a lot of comments to the effect of “It’s no surprise he’d want to step away for a bit. He’s been doing the same thing since 1999.” This is true and his desire to do something different (apparently what he really wanted to do all along was direct!) is perfectly understandable from his perspective, but from the perspective of a longtime viewer the whole thing is pretty damn jarring. The main reason for this is that for the entire time Stewart has hosted the show there’s been no tradition whatsoever of guest hosts.

The Salon.com piece I link above, which claims that “We need a break from Jon Stewart” due to his “annoying tics,” gets some quotes from a guy who worked at NBC in the ancient times of Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show. He mentions how Carson would keep himself from getting overly familiar to the audience by having frequent guest hosts.

That was then and this is now. The Tonight Show was seen as an institution bigger than any single host. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (his name is right in the title!) is seen purely as the show which Stewart hosts. No one sees Stewart as inheriting the mantle of Daily Show host from Craig Kilborn and there hasn’t been a single guest host since 1999. The effect of having someone else host to the audience is not unlike having the lead role suddenly recast in your favorite scripted drama or comedy.

The other strange and jarring aspect of the hiatus for Daily Show fans has been who Stewart has chosen to be the interim host for the three months he’s away: John Oliver. Unlike the Stephen Carell or Stephen Colbert eras, this is a time when there’s no clear “second in command” on the show, and it seems they’ve been trying to groom Oliver for that role for awhile, but I still find the choice strange. Yes, I realize they already did a whole bit on Oliver’s leapfrogging and violation of seniority Monday night, but seriously, why wasn’t it Jason Jones or Samantha Bee?

They’ve been there for longer and have generally been doing better work. I understand that maybe Jones is so deep in his character of dim-witted, macho “hard-charging newsman” type that maybe performing the role of host, which pretty much requires you to not be playing a character (much unlike The Colbert Report) wouldn’t have worked, but I could totally see Bee summoning the requisite moral outrage and incredulity. Oliver has done some good work in field pieces but doesn’t have a strong or steady enough presence to play host.

As I write this Oliver has only hosted once. It’s a mistake to write a review of a talk show host based on only one outing. Hosting gigs thrive on the development of rapport between the host and the audience which can only be developed over time. (The fact that Oliver will probably only be developing this just as it’s about time for the gig to end is another annoying thing about this whole arrangement.)

However, I will say the way Oliver and the writers have dealt with the situation thus far has been quite strange. It seems like the writing staff is simply writing the exact same type of jokes they’d write for Stewart and Oliver is delivering them. As someone who likes Stewart’s delivery, who doesn’t consider it just a bag of “annoying tics,” the effect of  this is fairly annoying.

As for his interviewing skills, Oliver seemed to do fine in the interview with Seth Rogen I saw, but interviews with actors have always been the least interesting part of The Daily Show. How will he far when interviewing powerful people, book authors etc.? Stewart himself doesn’t always push as hard as he should in these interviews but I can’t imagine Oliver doing even that well, particularly because he has no history doing more “newsy” interviews and I can’t imagine politicians etc. will respect him enough to go along with him. Maybe the idea is that all the politicians etc. will be taking their summer vacations anyway?

Three months of not having Jon Stewart to host The Daily Show ranks pretty low on a list of the country’s problems, and it’s understandable Stewart would want a break, but it’s still a pretty annoying state of affairs for fans of the show and in particular fans of Samantha Bee, who should have gotten the interim hosting gig instead of John Oliver.

 

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