With Jon Stewart’s departure from “The Daily Show,” a coveted job becomes open. Stewart, who was a bit of a struggling up-and-comer himself before landing the gig, leaves behind a show that has gone from an underground hit to a cable behemoth. But who should fill it next? A combative liberal or a neutral libertarian? An internal hire or a fiery upstart? A lifelong actor or a grizzled politician? We break down the best potential hosts for the job.
The longshot: Brian Williams
Well, he certainly has some free time coming up. Time and again, Williams has shown his ability to perform, whether through “Saturday Night Live” and “30 Rock” cameos or his wildly entertaining if somewhat embellished storytelling. Why not turn that negative energy into a job that allows him to toe the line between journalism and comedy a bit more? Williams supposedly raised his hand when Jay Leno’s “Tonight Show” gig was up for grabs, according to the New York Times, so maybe he’d be game for this.
The dream pick: Anyone from “Parks and Recreation”
As the show winds down its seventh and final season this month, we’d be happy if any of them made the jump to Comedy Central. Hire Nick Offerman and use his Ron Swanson-like American pride and woodworking skills as a counterpoint to Larry Wilmore’s more liberal take. Let Aziz Ansari take the chair and use his stand-up skills to skewer daily topics. (Maybe his friend and constant newsmaker Kanye West could have a weekly feature?) If you’re looking for a deadpan style that throws guests off kilter, Aubrey Plaza is your gal. Amy Poehler? We’d watch her host anything. Retta is already an incendiary live-tweeter and general media buff whose comedy chops could parlay well into a nightly endeavor. (Chris Pratt, alas, might be busy chasing dinosaurs.)
The internal candidates: Samantha Bee or Jessica Williams
Based on seniority, Bee should be the swivel-chair heir; she’s been on the show since 2003. She’s guest-hosted before, but is best known for snarky interviews where she isn’t afraid to lay some subtle shame on her subjects. Check out her spin on a June interview with an anti-vaxxer who questioned what a scientific consensus about vaccines really means. “I mean what does ‘consensus’ really mean anyway?” Bee said. “It’s just a really fancy word for overwhelming agreement. Probably about 99 percent. Maybe, maybe 99.99. Like, across the globe.”
Meanwhile, Jessica Williams’s ability to hit zeitgeisty topics has launched a number of funny-because-it’s-true viral hits, like her recent takedown of cat calls and the male gaze. “Jessica’s Feminized Atmosphere,” a recurring bit on the show, gives a perspective not often seen on television. As a young, black female, her hiring would be a welcome change from the sea of — mostly white — older men that fill the late-night airwaves.
The veteran hosts: Craig Ferguson, Joel McHale, Chelsea Handler
If Comedy Central wants experience, they need look no further than this trifecta. Ferguson never minded what his network bosses wanted, so the freedom of cable would probably suit him. Sure, he’s currently hosting CBS’s “Celebrity Name Game,” but a more relaxed and monologue-driven environment would be a better fit.
McHale’s barely hidden contempt for the E! network makes “The Soup” entertaining, but he’d probably welcome the intellectual challenge of a new venue. As host of the 2014 White House Correspondents’ Dinner, he showed he was at ease making jokes in front of the president and Congress, so making fun of them behind their backs should be a breeze. His seemingly endless turn on “Community” (still surviving as a Web series) might interfere with a daily show, but he can multi-task.
A nudity-prone, celebrity-smearing oversharer to the nth degree, Chelsea Handler would be a rabble-rousing but certainly entertaining host. Like McHale, this E! veteran escaped from the Kardashian trenches unscathed and is supposed to start a Netflix show in 2016. And Comedy Central has shown it’s not afraid of a controversial female host — the “Sarah Silverman Program” ran for three years. Come to think of it, Sarah Silverman might be interested. . .
The seasoned pro: Chris Rock
While few doubt Chris Rock’s general comedic prowess, he showed off his incredibly deft mind in recent months, holding forth in interview after interview on hot topics like race in Hollywood (and America in general); the impact of political correctness on comedy; income disparity; depression; Bill Cosby; and more. Rock has never shied away from politics or other uncomfortable subjects in his stand-up, a practice that would suit him well on a more controlled show. (Plus, Comedy Central already thinks pretty highly of him anyway.)
The ‘frank’ politicians: Al Franken or Barney Frank
One is a current Minnesota senator and former writer for “Saturday Night Live,” and the other is a former Massachusetts representative who has never pulled any punches when it comes to his opinion. Either would be a saucy and unique choice to fill Stewart’s spot. If Sen. Franken (D-Minn.) is bored with practicing politics, he can make the switch back to skewering them. And Frank, who retired in 2013, hasn’t been in the news too much lately, but his outspokenness has inspired people to write books about him and film documentaries about his journey, so there’s likely a receptive audience to mine.
The good idea we just had just now: Hannibal Buress
As the man who may have indirectly brought down the Cosby kingdom with a single stand-up routine, Buress is certainly a comedian who knows how to make an impact. He has performed on nearly every talk show on the circuit (Fallon, Conan, Letterman, Ferguson, Kimmel) so he has experience in the genre. And as we’ve discovered, he definitely has something to say — and isn’t afraid to say it.