The Substitute

Meet John Oliver, Jon Stewart’s ‘Daily Show’ Replacement

It's actually John Oliver, a dry-witted Brit who's manning the 'Daily Show' desk this summer. Kevin Fallon on why it's okay to like him (even if you miss the old Jon).

On Thursday night’s episode of The Daily Show, Jon Stewart attempted to offer a heartfelt sign-off as he headed to a summer hiatus. The moment was hijacked, however, by longtime Daily Show correspondent John Oliver, cackling about how “it’s my show now!” while stuffing Stewart’s pens in his pants.

You may have laughed. You may have also thought, “Who is this guy?”

Fans of The Daily Show are certainly familiar with Oliver. It’s been seven years since he debuted as the show’s “Senior British Correspondent.” In fact, the comedian’s first trip to America, at age 29, was to film his first episode of The Daily Show. It makes the fact he was honored with the distinction as Jon Stewart’s first full-time replacement ever kind of poetic. But he clearly deserves it.

Stewart is taking the summer off from the show he has hosted since 1996 to direct the film Rosewater, which he wrote. Oliver will substitute anchor for him starting Monday, June 10, until Stewart returns on September 3. After seven years in the Daily Show family, Oliver makes for the least jarring transition among the show’s staff—and by extension the least jarring transition for the show’s viewers, as well. (Once they get past having the news mocked in a British accent.)

The Daily Show has long been the launching pad for up-and-coming comedians—as in, once their careers take off, they literally launch off the show. Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert, Ed Helms, and Rob Corddry all owe the nightly Comedy Central program for their big breaks. Even recently, Olivia Munn and Wyatt Cenac left the show, onward and upward. Oliver, however, has stayed, even as his career, too, has been on the rise. Stewart’s first extended absence leaves rather large shoes to fill, yes. But Oliver is perhaps the only man suitable to fill them.

“He’s got all the talents and he’s gonna be great,” Stewart told the Associated Press. “And he can handle the speed of it. You want somebody in that position for everybody on staff, so they don’t feel they have to slow down.”

And for Oliver, who has happily stayed with The Daily Show even while taking side stints on shows like Community, agreeing to take the job was a simple matter of, like he’s done for the past seven years, saying “yes” to the man who gave him his break.

“I’ll say ‘yes’ to anything he wants me to do,” he told the AP. “I owe him so much—he brought me over here seven years ago—so I’ll do anything he wants, whether it’s hosting his show or operating as a drug mule between here and Bogotá.” And then, showing off the dry wit we’re in for this summer: “As it happens, what he wanted was just hosting this show.”

The rumor is that Ricky Gervais is the one who tipped Stewart off to Oliver’s talents. With scant screen credits prior to heading to Comedy Central, the show gave him his big break. He’s been a longtime fan of Monty Python and especially of Armando Iannucci, the Scottish mastermind behind the political satire The Thick of It, who just introduced Americans to his foul-mouthed farce with the HBO comedy Veep.

It’s easy to see both influences in Oliver’s own humor, which he describes as applying “classic British lunacy to politics, trying to do something stupid with something serious.” Watch any of Oliver’s Daily Show clips, and it’s easy to pin down the joke he’s playing. By merely speaking with a British accent, he comes off as a superior know-it-all explaining American politics to us when, in fact, he’s talking out of his ass. Err … arse.

It’s very British, he says, to sound like you know more than Americans. “They sound like they do, and that’s the trick,” he said. “But there is nothing more British than simultaneously feeling superior and inferior. You just project one, repress the other.”

Oliver’s level of fame is a peculiar case. He’s been in living rooms on an almost nightly basis for, yes, more then seven years now, and comedy fans are certainly familiar with his work. He plays the recurring role of Professor Ian Duncan on Community, is the voice of Vanity Smurf in the Smurf films, and hosts the Comedy Central program John Oliver’s New York Stand-Up Show. Yet it’s taken landing the gig as Stewart’s replacement host for Oliver to receive the “Next Big Thing” blanket of press coverage that many comedians with far less on their résumés receive. In the past few weeks, Oliver has been profiled at length by BuzzFeed, The New York Times, the Associated Press, GQ, and BBC America.

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The question posed in each of the write-ups: how will he change the show that was once voted the country’s most trusted news source? The answer: not much.

“I don’t want to see c-o-l-o-r on the prompter or there’s going to be hell to pay,” he joked to The New York Times. But then, more seriously, “I’ve been here seven years, so the voice of the show has moved into my DNA as well. I don’t know if [the change] is going to be particularly recognizable, other than there’s going to be a different face and a different-sounding voice saying it.”

Still, there are some big news events to look forward to Oliver covering. The Supreme Court will rule on landmark gay-marriage cases. The scandal over the NSA surveillance will no doubt continue to unfold. That’s not to mention the birth of Kate Middleton and Prince William’s first child.

At the very least, Oliver’s excited about that. “I think [the royal family] have a kind of weird Jedi mind trick when you actually meet them, that they’ve developed over centuries over breeding,” he told BuzzFeed when asked about the world’s odd fascination with the royals. “They’ve just learned something from their strategic marriages and inbreeding over centuries that mean they have certain skills in terms of manipulating the human soul.”

While we may have to wait until July to see how he responds to the royal birth, here’s a recap of some of Oliver’s best moments to tide us over.