“Let’s all just acknowledge for a moment that this is weird,” said John Oliver on June 10, his first night hosting “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.”
“This looks weird, it feels weird, it even sounds weird — it sounds weird to me, and this is my actual voice.”
A correspondent for the show since 2006, Oliver took over the anchor desk this summer while Stewart has been directing a not-so-secret movie project in the Middle East.
It was weird at first.
But soon, the idea of Oliver as emcee began to seem normal. I liked having Oliver in the driver’s seat. So did other viewers. He won over audiences immediately.
Alas, as they say, all good things must come to an end: Oliver’s run as interim host ended last week. I miss the geeky, gawky, lovable Brit already.
Don’t get me wrong: I adore Stewart. His show is groundbreaking. He’s the Messiah of the left-leaning fake news program.
But I’m about to say something that borders on blasphemy: If push came to shove, I’d pick John (with an “h”) over Jon (without).
John Oliver is a better host of “The Daily Show” than Jon Stewart.
There, I said it.
Because Stewart has been hosting since 1999, with more than 2,600 episodes under his belt, you might say, OK, you’re jaded. You’re bored. But I think my affection for Oliver is about more than novelty. I found his entire performance not just a refreshing change, but in most ways as good — or even better — than his boss’s rendition.
1. Oliver is a better actor
Stewart is funny, but he overacts. He uses the same predictable voices, smug facial expressions and caricatures over and over again: The Mafia Guy, The Dumb Southerner, the Jewish Grampa, etc. Oliver’s more sedate physical awkwardness — OK, let’s call it nerdiness — makes for extra laughs. He also plays a better “straight man” to play off the correspondents’ bits. Compare Oliver’s presence with Stewart’s looser, spazzier demeanor. And let’s face it: Stewart’s inability to sit still detracts from his material.
2. Oliver is the better interviewer
He is. Oliver is more attentive, more reactive, and just plain better at asking good questions and engaging his guests. Stewart tends to get mired in silly talk or in pushing some kind of an agenda.
3. Outside perspective
Oliver’s modus operandi is to be amused and horrified by what happens in our country. He seems physically pained by the news travesties he’s reporting. Of course, Oliver has had the same team of writers (minus Stewart) to back him, but to my ear, being a Brit provides him the perfect critical stance as “commentator” and gives him the outsider edge. He can straddle the pond, claiming a British “we” or American “we” depending on the needs of the comedic moment.
4. British accent
Perhaps this is just my “Monty Python” obsession speaking, but satire just sounds better with an accent. A British inflection automatically reads as authoritative — but since “Daily Show” material by its very nature is subversive, the tension between the two forces is comedy magic.
This goes along with the categories above, but it’s worth noting as its own criteria. Jon Stewart mutters. He low talks. Worse of all, he delivers his lines at light speed. The dude needs to slooooow dowwwwwn. Oliver, on the other hand, speaks clearly, carefully, methodically. We can hear every snap, crackle, and pop in the timbre of his voice.
6. More funny?
What makes one laugh is personal. It’s a matter of taste. You can’t really quantify or explain it. For me, Oliver is just funnier. He’s also sharper, fresher, and yes I must admit, younger. Maybe I’ve outgrown Stewart’s shtick? Or perhaps the times have changed? I was, after all, obsessed with David Letterman in the 80s and early 90s: His antics suited that era of pop culture perfectly. Now, decades later, to me, he’s a tired out grump who seems almost as checked out as bandleader Paul Shaffer. No fun.
On September 3, Stewart returns.
But fear not, Oliver-ites! Media outlets are already speculating Oliver is the “The Daily Show” heir apparent. If Stewart should not step aside anytime soon, Comedy Central could easily spin off an Oliver-helmed show.