The first question on everyone’s mind as soon as they hear that Jon Stewart is retiring from The Daily Show is the same: Who will replace him?
You can make the argument that because the show has become synonymous with Stewart that it’ll be impossible to replace him at all. We’ve seen that the program could run smoothly without him (a stint in 2013 with John Oliver in the big chair proved we could live in a post-Stewart world), but it still seems strange to think of The Daily Show without “with Jon Stewart” tagged on at the end. He’s led the show for 17 years. The half-hour satire has become a political staple, a credible news source for many, and Stewart made that possible. Whether you agree with his political views, it’s hard to argue against its cultural relevance. It’s conceivable that Comedy Central will go in a different direction completely after his departure.
Because of just how important The Daily Show has become, the aforementioned question is impossible to ignore. Even Stewart addressed it briefly in his statement on Tuesday’s episode, saying “it is time for someone else to have that opportunity.” Twitter gave me a number of suggestions for new hosts, from current Daily Show correspondents to comedians outside of the cast that have proven themselves on other shows. A number of people have suggested women. This is most likely a result of who I choose to interact with, but also a reminder of how very few women have ever hosted a late night show. The more I thought about it, and the more people that came out to state that Comedy Central should just pick the best person for the job and not worry about gender, race or sexual orientation, the more hiring a woman seemed to be the right thing to do. Maybe the only thing to do.
As in most industries, women within media are often overshadowed by their male counterparts in terms of numbers and influence. Comedy especially has a woman problem, with some male comedians still espousing the popular adage that “women aren’t funny.” Many men seem to actually believe that. Adam Carolla has become the standard-bearer for this way of thinking, his comments in a 2012 New York Post article suggesting that women like Joy Behar or Sherri Shepherd wouldn’t be on TV if they were men. This belief has been around for decades, with one of the most famous funny men of all time, Jerry Lewis, saying that watching women do comedy “sets him back a bit.” He couldn’t even name a single woman comic that he enjoyed.
And apparently, as seen in Bonnie McFarlane’s 2014 documentary Women Aren’t Funny, it’s still a conventional conclusion. The film explores the comedy industry’s opinion of female comedians with McFarlane, a stand-up comedian married to another stand-up comedian, speaking to others in the business about the subject. During the course of 78 minutes, she questions her own validity in the business by talking to people like Chris Rock, who say that women are “generally” less funny than guys, and club owners who think that women won’t sell as well. The so-called “cocumentary” (a comedy documentary) is sarcastic, which often times diminishes the point she is trying to make. For example, she badgers Maria Bamford during an interview about adding her to a list of female comedians, along with trying to run an unfunny woman out of the business. Regardless of the tone, the statements that are made by some of the men interviewed are almost primitive, with Anthony Cumia, formerly of the Opie and Anthony Show, saying “girls aren’t normally as funny as a bunch of guys hanging out” directly on air. Susie Essman even says at one point she went into a deep depression because of the pressure she felt from men in the business.
Many in the film make the argument that there just aren’t enough women comedians. But there are. On The Daily Show alone there are stellar talents. There’s Jessica Williams, a more recent addition to the show that has become one of the leading voices for black women on television (she also makes a very good argument about how she should run a sophisticated celebrity gossip site in Wired). There’s Samantha Bee, a veteran that carved out a niche doing the most entertainingly awkward interviews about serious topics. Kristen Schaal is a frequent guest that makes fearless, and sometimes crude, points about women’s rights. Going away from the show, there’s Aisha Tyler, Wanda Sykes, Chelsea Peretti, Amy Schumer, Sarah Silverman, Marina Franklin, Cameron Esposito, and so so so many more. Not all of these women would necessarily make for a great Jon Stewart replacement, but a few have already been tapped as possible contenders for the spot, Tyler and the correspondents specifically. All of them provide unique perspectives that influence their comedy, setting them apart from their male counterparts while also sometimes providing harsh criticisms of the gender and race roles that inhabit the industry.
The Daily Show is always best when it’s taking down an established institution. Under Stewart the show has been a leading voice in political discussion, but with the help of correspondents such as Williams, Bee and Schaal it’s also branched out into feminism and racism. It’s also tackled much smaller stories from the more isolated areas of the country. These were things that Stewart and some of the other long-running supporting cast members couldn’t discuss on their own, and by bringing in comedians who could address them the show fostered the diversity and depth it needed to reach out to an even larger portion of the population. By offering a multitude of perspectives, The Daily Show managed to break out of its own confines.
It would be advantageous for Comedy Central to consider a female host as a replacement in order to maintain the diversity that helped The Daily Show and to appeal to a wider audience, but it would also be great for the industry at large. The canard that “women aren’t funny” is dangerous to comedy, creating an environment that perpetuates its own beliefs while also pushing people away, causing so many talents to suffer. In order to turn the tide and continue in the tradition of The Daily Show’s sharp satire and rebellious spirit, it makes sense to choose a woman. And not just because a female host would show that women can be funny: Simply put, it would also be rad as hell.
Carli Velocci is a freelance journalist in Boston, Massachusetts. You can find her on Twitter @revierypone.