Sometime before the end of 2015, the face of The Daily Show will change, and the show's gender should probably change, too.
Jon Stewart's 17-year tenure on the series could come to an end as early as July, or so the comedian announced last night during an emotional monologue. The show has grown into a major force, not just in comedy but in news as well. So who belongs in the fake anchor's chair?
We asked Doug Herzog, president of the Viacom Entertainment Group, what he thought about the future of The Daily Show, and he was (of course) a little cagey. But he did say hiring a woman to take over was a distinct possibility.
"The Daily Show endures," he said. "All good ideas are being considered. We're happy to have anybody that we believe is going to be funny enough and smart enough to sit behind that desk."
We've ranked our picks below, but honestly, any of these women could do a sterling job taking the show in a new direction that would be in keeping with the network's prime-time slate. Comedy Central has taken full advantage of the popularity of women in comedy by snapping up a dozen of TV's funniest comediennes to populate its prime-time schedule. Broad City and Inside Amy Schumer, for instance, have become major players.
A lot of folks are floating new and untried talent for this post—there's a petition circulating to give the post to the great Jessica Williams, who's 25—we think that's probably not the way to go (Stewart was 37 when he took over the show). Writing 15 minutes of solid political comedy five nights a week is a marathon, not a sprint—The Daily Show had 159 episodes last year. But these five are up to the task.
The only reason Amy Sedaris is No. 5 is she doesn't have the stand-up experience that others on this list do—a serious consideration if not an absolute must. But she's one of the funniest writers alive, she's a terrific performer, and she has a (presumably still solid) relationship with Comedy Central after having done the incredibly weird, weirdly incredible Strangers With Candy. And she wrote the series with Daily Show alum Stephen Colbert and Paul Dinello. Funny, smart and unflappable, she's the least overtly political of the suggestions here, but we think she'd be great.
Garofalo is among the hardest-working comics in the business and one of Stewart's most recognizable contemporaries. Her act is brainy, and she has a solid political perspective informed by a tremendous amount of study. And she's funny! She'd keep audience members who fondly remember Stewart's early days, and she'd appeal to young women, who the network is trying to attract.
She speaks strongly about corporate crime—maybe not the best fit when advertising integrations are part of the game—but Stewart and Colbert did subversive stuff with their in-show ads that pleased everyone involved, including the companies shelling out for them.
If you're a network executive, you might see Sarah Silverman as a risk. You have absolutely no idea what the brash comic will say or do next. And let's be clear: The Daily Show would lose centrist viewers if it put Silverman in charge. But it would almost certainly get something new and exciting from a comic with a huge following and a lot of experience writing, acting and performing stand-up in front of huge audiences. She'd fit in perfectly with Schumer and Broad City, and she's worked with writing staffs on multiple occasions.
Best. Deadpan. Ever. Tig Notaro, a little annoyingly, is probably best known as "that comedian with cancer" for a lot of the country, but her act is unlike anybody else's (sample one-liner: "I've been battling SIDS my whole life"). And she's utterly fearless—the bit where she dragged a chair across the floor on Conan is so weird as to seem like performance art, and also one of the funniest things anybody's done on a talk show. (The audience was into it, too!)
Notaro would make the show entirely different from what it is now, but that might be a good thing—Stewart is a hard act to follow, and Notaro, from another part of the country, with another set of concerns, would change the game completely.
Really, this spot ought to be Bee's to lose. Even without her qualifications as a comedian, writer and reporter (seriously, her work is better than anything cable news did on Occupy Wall Street), she's got seniority. The longest-serving Daily Show correspondent still working on the show, Bee has seen three election cycles come and go under Stewart, and that is going to be the most pressing concern for 2016.
It doesn't matter that the show is a "fake" news program. Once the electioneering starts, it becomes a resource for millions of Americans, who rely on it to cut through the spin. Bee is famously good at that part of the job, and her segments frequently skew contrary to the show's perceived liberal bias—she's as comfortable making fun of Democrats as she is mocking Republicans, and the show's ability to make people laugh across the aisle is a large part of what made it great under Stewart.