I like John Oliver better than Jon Stewart. There. I said it.
Like many people, I was dubious about Oliver covering for Stewart. Sure, he’s funny and all, but can he sustain it as a host? A lot of people are meant to be crew, not captain. So when Oliver began his 8 week stint as Daily Show seat warmer, I was skeptical as to whether I would tune in every night. However, from the first night all the way through this past Thursday, I have gone from pleasantly surprised to continually delighted.
I remember watching a documentary about The Ramones and one of those interviewed described their music like this: At first you think, “this is dumb.” Then you think, “this is pretty catchy.” Eventually you think, “I could learn to worship this.”
Well, I here to tell you that I have learned to worship the zany stylings of John Oliver. Now this doesn’t mean I don’t think J Stew isn’t great, but as the weeks went on, a sinking feeling started to set in. Oliver’s lighter, more absurdist comedic touch exposed a growing flaw in John Stewart’s performance. A sense of self-righteousness, a tinge of bitterness, and a tendency toward false equivalency. I think it began during the otherwise amusing “Restoring Sanity” campaign. Stewart was too often–for my taste–making both sides of the political spectrum out to be comparable. Something that doesn’t quite wash. As Bill Maher put it, “Over the last 30 odd years, Democrats have moved to the right and the right has moved into the mental hospital.” In fact, Maher had some criticism for Stewart as well. As he put it, “If you’re going to have a rally where hundreds of thousands of people show up, you may as well make it about something.”
Now I don’t always agree with Maher either, but on this point I think he was correct. By no means do I think Stewart should go away. He is a brilliant comedian, an incisive social critic, and one of the better interviewers on television. But in the last year, I’ve come to sense that he seemed a little…well, bored. One thing John Oliver never appeared to be for even a single second of his tenure. I suppose that Stew will come back completely recharged and make a fool of me (some reading this may have already come to this conclusion anyway), but I know the guy sitting in his seat didn’t just keep it warm, he kept it blazing hot.
Oliver’s funny/sad bit on the state of Detroit may have been the single most exhilarating segment I have seen on the show since it’s inception. And as for interviewing–an area where Stewart is tremendous–his pressing of progressive Senator, Kirsten Gillibrand on her donations from big business was incisive and on target. The way I see it. Oliver has room to grow, whereas Stewart has peaked.
Many will suggest a middle path as a solution for what to do with Oliver now that Stew is returning. Give him his own show they will say. It’s certainly not a bad idea. More is better in this case, right? I mean who the hell would miss Tosh.0 if it fell off the side of the Earth tomorrow? Others have whispered to me, “yeah, but you can’t take Stew’s show from him.” I get that, and I’m not advocating a firing. I would counter with a sports analogy. In 1925, the very fine first baseman for the New York Yankess went down with an injury. His replacement outplayed him by nearly every measure. Some managers believe that a guy should not lose his starting position due to an injury. If the skipper of the 1925 Yanks thought that way, we may never have known of Lou Gehrig. That for me is the most salient argument. Oliver has already found a place on The Daily Show. For 8 weeks now he has proven his value, and more than that, he’s better. That’s right, I said he is “better.” In fact, I said it twice.