That wildly popular World War I song has been buzzing through my head since last week’s announcement that Jon Stewart would take a 12-week leave from The Daily Show this summer to direct his first movie. John Oliver will keep the anchor seat warm.
As a longtime Stewart Scholar—an unofficial title, strictly speaking—I am gripped with fear over this so-called hiatus. Once our Jon gets a taste of the power and prestige that comes with being a Hollywood director, he’ll never want to return to the little pond of Comedy Central.
Much as I hate to say it, Stewart has many more reasons to move on than to come back.
At the soul-searching age of 50, he’s ready for a major life change. Having hosted Daily Show since 1999, he has done it all—big money, acclaim, a cool quotient beyond measure. In his current incarnation, he has nothing left to prove.
As a political satirist, Stewart ranks with Jonathan Swift. But on those rare occasions he decides to be Very Serious, his tone is so discordant with the show’s usual snark that it comes off as posturing. A serious project provides the appropriate venue, and he’ll like the gravitas that comes with it.
Rosewater is based on Maziar Bahari’s 2011 memoir, Then They Came For Me: A Family’s Story of Love, Captivity and Survival. Bahari, a journalist, spent 118 days in an Iranian prison in ’09. After appearing on Daily Show three times, he and Stewart became friends.
Stewart wrote the screenplay; Scott Rudin will produce. Rudin’s extensive hardware includes an Oscar, along with Emmy, Tony and Grammy awards. Stewart has a slew of Emmys and two Grammys. Movie-wise, he had parts in such eminently forgettable flops as Death to Smoochy. Oh, and he hosted the Oscars. Twice.
Back to Daily Show. It’s a grind for Stewart, despite his gluttonous vacation schedule. Monday through Thursday, he and his writers must churn out endless funny material, most of it with a shelf life of seconds. Every day, he must be at the same place, at the same time, reading from the same teleprompter.
Movies, which can take months to shoot, will provide Stewart with a welcome alternative to the unrelenting churn-‘em-and-burn-‘em production schedule of television. He’ll also have the luxury of multiple takes, a concept as foreign to Daily Show as canned laughter.
From another perspective, John Oliver may turn out to be so smashing as Stewart’s understudy that Comedy Central decides to give him the starring role. (See “Eve, All About.”) Eventually, that could lead to Oliver getting his own show, as did Stephen Colbert in 2005.
Frankly, odds for this scenario are, as Dan Rather used to say, slim and none—and none just left town. A tall, skinny, heavily accented Brit, Oliver is an acquired taste, better in small doses.
Will we hear more jokes about the Queen and the PM this summer? Will Oliver’s shots at American politics carry weight with viewers from the Colonies? If CNN’s Piers Morgan is any indication, the answers are yes and no.
Still, it’s doubtful that Oliver will cause any major damage to Comedy Central’s crown jewel. Overall viewership dips in the summer months, anyway. Also, Daily Show had already been scheduled for reruns for four weeks, so Oliver’s run will only be eight weeks. Most important, there’s an end date for Stewart’s absence.
Or is there? Don’t leave us, Jon! What will we watch at 11? Local news? Now that’s funny.