For many, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
was an island of television sanity in the W era. For others, it was just proof of how smug liberals are. But there’s no denying the show’s lasting impact on TV comedy. It’s most famous alumni are The Two Steves: Colbert and Carell. After batting cleanup for Stewart on Comedy Central for years, Colbert is currently killing it in David Letterman’s former slot on CBS. Carell, on the other hand, abandoned topical comedy for The Office and, later, movie stardom, most recently as a high strung financial analyst in The Big Short
To replace Stewart, The Daily Show
brought in outsider Trevor Noah, who so far has been holding the brand together, and little more. But two Daily Show
alums are taking the old formula and running with it. John Oliver was the leading candidate for Stewart’s chair until HBO snapped him up in 2013. He’s tweaked the formula, dropping the fake news deadpan, with decent results. But both the Daily and Oliver are going to be hard pressed to keep up with Full Frontal With Samantha Bee
I’ll admit, I’m pretty burned out on political TV comedy. But Bee’s opening monolog instantly won me over. Where Noah is a little bland, and Oliver channelling everyone’s favorite Addreall addled British exchange student roommate, Bee is relaxed, confident, and looks like she’s actually having fun in front of the audience. It seems the two primary skills of the liberal political comedian are effectively channeling exasperation and articulating a lot of words clearly and quickly, and Bee can do both through a smile that seems genuine.
On this week’s show, which aired last night, she held a focus group for Trump supporters, with a promise to “actually treat them nicely”—which included an after-focus group party complete with live entertainment and “Welcome Trump Supporters” sign. After two decades of increasingly hostile partisan warfare intensified by information bubbles that isolate audiences and feed them only the news they agree with, this little bit of cultural exchange borders on a revolutionary act. Bee defanged the rancor by being respectful of her opponents, while still wringing laughs from the distance between their opinions. In this season of political anxiety, Bee might be the comedy remedy you’ve been looking for, and the true heir to Stewart’s chair.