For almost 20 years, he’s made us laugh, and sometimes cry, and yesterday he announced he’s stepping down as host of The Daily Show. While his future may not be certain, there’s no doubt that Craig Kilborn changed American media forever.
How can you begin to calculate Kilborn’s impact? For starters, he was certainly one of the tallest people on late-night television, with the possible exception of Conan O’Brien and, for a brief period in 1998 when he had his own talk show The Magic Hour, Magic Johnson, who is 6-9. That’s tall. But for the most part, Kilborn was the tallest, and he carried that recognizable height every weeknight, through some of our nation’s most memorable events.
Who could forget how tall Kilborn was on that fateful Tuesday in 2001? I’m talking about 9/11, of course, when we all found solace in his steady on-air presence: his perfectly combed hair, his smug grin, and, above all else, his calming tallness. He didn’t try to put events into perspective or appeal to our humanity, or to show his own vulnerability and fear and confusion. He didn’t need to. He was tall.
As always, it was just what America needed at just the right moment.
But Craig Kilborn, host of The Daily Show With Craig Kilborn for two glorious decades, was more than just tall. He was also quite cute. Millions of Americans tuned in every night, just dying to see Kilborn’s take on the latest scandal or controversy. And night after night, he’d strike the perfect balance of flirty but obnoxious, sometimes by biting his lip, sometimes with a wink, but always as cute as a damn button.
Soon, a whole generation was turning to Craig Kilborn to get their news. The older folks scoffed, sure, but for those of us who grew up with him, Craig Kilborn was more than just a former sportscaster who went on to host one of the most influential programs of the 2oth century: Craig Kilborn was our hero.
No one spoke to us quite like Craig Kilborn, and the segments he pioneered on The Daily Show With Craig Kilborn have become legendary, from “A Moment for Us,” to “Dance, dance, dance.” He also said “Yambo” a lot. Millions of us found ourselves talking like Craig Kilborn, walking like Craig Kilborn, trying, in many ways, to be Craig Kilborn, a lone beacon of tallness and smarm, in a world gone mad.
The unforgettable moments from his incredible run on The Daily Show With Craig Kilborn are too many to count, but a few stand out as particularly groundbreaking.
· The time he and Bill Clinton traded stories about interns they’d slept with for the entire length of the show
· When he dunked on Nelson Mandela
· The episode in 2010 when he made us all forget about the horror of the Haiti earthquake by licking his fingers and slicking back his eyebrows
· When he had Vince Vaughn on the show 183 times
· When he did “5 Questions” with Dick Cheney and got him to accidentally admit that 9/11 was an inside job
· The time he staged a reunion with the stars of Saved by the Bell and pretended he had been a member of the cast. No one but him could have thought of doing anything like that.
To be sure, Craig Kilborn wasn’t perfect. He never had any female guests, for example. And he oftentimes didn’t seem to know anything about the news or current events or politics or world affairs or really anything at all. And his wardrobe made him look like he ran a funeral parlor out of a casino. And he was always drunk.
But he somehow transcended all of that, and he created something (The Daily Show With Craig Kilborn) that will go down in history. A show that defined an era—let’s call it “the Kilborn Era,” and now that that era is coming to a close, I feel like I’m losing a part of who I am. What are we supposed to watch now? Remote Control on MTV? Not likely.
I can’t imagine a world without Craig Kilborn at the helm of The Daily Show, and until he leaves later this year, I’m not even going to try.