Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart Replacement? Very Meh.

5544227934_dd46048429_zTrevor Noah could be the funniest man in recorded history or someone on par with Gallagher: Either way, he’s yet another male host in the late-night talk-show universe.

The South African comedian, who will succeed Jon Stewart at The Daily Show later this year, is biracial—which means that Comedy Central has not one but two late-night shows with black men at the helm. This is a huge step forward. But it would have meant even more if the network had picked a woman to take over.

It’s not like there’s a shortage of candidates. Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Sarah Silverman, Aisha Tyler, Amy Schumer, Tig Notaro and Sasheer Zamata all should have made the short list. There’s also some serious in-house talent, aka Samantha Bee and Jessica Williams. (In February Williams tweeted that she wasn’t ready for the role … but was Conan O’Brien ready for the hosting seat? He struggled for a good long while before finding his stride.)

Many other talented women could have thrived as Stewart’s heir apparent, like cultural critic Jamilah Lemieux, MSNBC’s Zerlina Maxwell and the beyond-funny Broad City duo, Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer—but Comedy Central went the safe route, just as NBC did when it tapped Jimmy Fallon and CBS when it chose the hilarious (but undeniably male) Stephen Colbert. No matter how much proof there is to the contrary, there persists in Hollywood the notion that women aren’t funny. (Lizzy Caplan and Scott Aukerman skewered this stereotype last year on IFC’s Comedy Bang! Bang!: “Boys can be funny,” Caplan said. “I just think maybe they haven’t had the opportunity to be funny for as long as girls have.”)

There are likely more subtle factors at work. Consider this: Stewart has become quite the yeller on The Daily Show, bellowing whenever he’s particularly irked. But while it’s OK for a man to get heated, would the network tolerate a woman who expressed her outrage in this fashion? Stewart’s also been allowed to age on the show, graying and rounding as his tenure’s progressed. It’s safe to say that a woman host wouldn’t be given the same opportunity to look anything less than picture-perfect.

And ultimately the same issues that kept late night white for so long are holding women back. According to Free Press research, people of color hold just 3 percent of the licenses to the nation’s full-power TV stations. Women own less than 7 percent. Mammoth corporations—Comcast, Disney, etc.—own all of the major networks, and men are the CEOs of all of those behemoths. It’s simple math: White men in power beget more white men in power.

Cheers to Trevor Noah for further chipping away at late night’s white barricade. But let’s face it, Comedy Central blew it here.

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Photo courtesy of Flickr user DonkeyHotey licensed under Creative Commons 2.0



Amy Kroin’s work has appeared in The New York TimesThe Washington Post, The Boston Globe, and Salon, among other publications.


  1. Perhaps you shouldn’t be so quick to judge, without all the facts at hand. Perhaps Comedy Central did consider many women for this job, and many men. Perhaps they winnowed those choices down, and decided that this gentleman was their best choice for this job. Perhaps that decision had nothing do do with gender. Are you suggesting that in such a circumstance, that the man in question should be set aside, in favor of a woman candidate, simply because he’s male? Yes, the patriarchy is in full force, but I’d like to hear why this particular male should have an important career opportunity taken away from him because of his gender. Its important to make change overall, but when you focus that onto specific examples, you look callous and cold: unless you’re saying that the job should have never been open to men (probably illegal), then the male candidates who make the cut to the final must be then heavily discounted due to their gender. I’m not sure that’s a good idea.

    • Amy Kroin says:

      Hi Sharon,
      Thanks for your comment. I have absolutely nothing against Trevor Noah and think his selection is an important one in terms of racial diversity. But gender diversity’s important too. Only one woman has hosted a late-night talk show in the U.S. — Joan Rivers in 1986. And Johnny Carson punished her for daring to go out on her own; he never booked her again, and subsequent Tonight Show hosts followed suit. (Kudos to Jimmy Fallon for breaking the pattern.)

      It would be one thing if there were no qualified women to take over at the Daily Show, but there’s actually a really strong and varied group of candidates — women who are funny, smart, thoughtful, and savvy. It’s time for the networks to break with tradition and put women in these leadership positions.

      • You didn’t state whether or not you knew for certain that any of women you mentioned were even interested in the role. You mentioned Williams who herself stated she didn’t want the part. As Black woman I too have an expectation of diversity and inclusion, but I am also cautious of yelling fire before I see smoke.

      • Does Chelsea Handler not count?

      • Sharon Davis says:

        You forgot Chelsea Handler.

  2. I agree with the other commenter. I think you’re jumping to a conclusion without knowing what happened behind the scenes. For all we know they did ask those women if they were interested, but they said no. Plus, Trevor Noah is funny!

  3. Saying that Comedy Central “went the safe route” and “blew it” is a huge intersectionality fail. Yes, late-night comedy desperately needs more women, and it’s a point that needs to be made. But having two POC hosting back-to-back shows on a major channel is groundbreaking, and some of the language choices here are such white feminist stereotype sloppiness.

  4. Amy Kroin says:

    Hi Ella,
    Thanks for your comment. The truly groundbreaking choice would have been a WOMAN of color. The five I nominated here are just a few examples of the truly stellar candidates out there.

  5. Karri Dell says:

    I agree with Amy, Comedy Central blew it. Jessica Williams stated she was not “ready” for the job,. What else was she going to say? If she had said anything to the negative about her experience she would have been shunned from the industry. And, If that’s the case, how was Stephen Colbert “ready” to host his show? How was Larry Willmore or Trevor Noah “ready”?? We may never know what really happened behind the scenes with Jessica or Samantha or any of the other women who may have been considered for the job. The fact is, ANY of these women mentioned above would have been more than worthy to do this job with a little coaching and patience. Change is awkward and yes, it would have been a huge jump to let a woman take the helm of one of the most watched evening shows in the country. Lord knows we’ve had to be patient with Larry W. Especially the last few shows…but to say that Trevor Noah was the most logical or best choice is simply not true. It may well be that the powers that be in prime time television are still not ready for women to have a real place or voice in this country.

    • Sharon Davis says:

      Not being ready sounds like something Sheryl Sandberg said in her book. This happens all the time in corporate America. Women don’t lean in. Men rarely say this. They apply for a job when they have 60% of the qualifications. They believe they’ll learn in the job. Women feel they need 100%.

  6. I appreciate the argument you are trying to make; yes, it is critical that there also be more gender diversity on television and other media platforms. And it is not enough to just have more women on the screen, but also to have them visibly sit in and assume positions of power (and we’ve witnessed how the seat of the Daily Show host carries immense power)I could not agree with you more on that. However, I am uncomfortable with the persistent effort to want to put Jessica Williams in a role she does not want. Back off. Respect her choices and decisions. Why do white feminists think it is okay to want to continue pushing for this, specifically? Why do you feel the need to insert that bit about Conan O’Brien as if to suggest to Jessica Williams that the reasons she claimed for not wanting the job are invalid? It reads as, “Well, Conan wasn’t quite ready for hosting when he took over, so you’ll be fine, too. Stop making excuses. Do this!” Again, I agree with your point. It would’ve been GREAT to have a woman replace Jon. But chill out with Jessica Williams.

    • Kimberlee, Esq. says:

      I totally agree on Jessica Williams. She said she didn’t want it, let’s just believe her. I would bet that Amy Poeler and Tina Fey are both uninterested in being tied down to such a time consuming gig (and I would almost bet they were asked!). I think a co-anchor situation of Samantha Bee and Jason Jones would have been adorable, but that’s a lot of white, and it’s entirely possible that they were offered, and declined.

      I think that CC would have blown it if they’d seated another white male. They didn’t, so I’m good. Daily Show has been more active in recruiting both females and people of color as correspondents, I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt that they looked at (and possibly offered the gig to) several women before settling on Noah.

  7. This article seems poorly researched to me. You can’t just list a bunch of women who are on tv and go “these people should have been considered!”. Many of the women you listed either have other projects going on, have voiced their desire to *not* be hosting the Daily Show, or aren’t even from a comedy background. And the almost careless nod to the racial barrier being further broken seems nothing more than an afterthought. Really disappointing.

    • I totally agree with you. Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Sarah Silverman, Aisha Tyler, Amy Schumer, Tig Notaro and Sasheer Zamata would have all been incredible, for sure. But most of those women are above hosting the Daily Show. Those women have their own shows, creating their own content – do we really demand they quit the projects they are creating for themselves to fill into a pre-existing show. And Jessica Williams said herself that it’s rude, patronizing, and sexist to tell her *why* she doesn’t want it and why she should and she’s just lying to herself.

  8. Andrew Bennett says:

    From what I’ve read they did ask Poehler, Fey, and Shumer and got shot down. They were unlikely to get anyone who is already famous to fill the role. Not a lot of people want the work week that being the host of the daily show entails. I will agree that with all the recent late night replacements its a shame we could not get at least one woman replacement. They are at least helping to advance the typical trend. Black men come after white men, and after that women get a chance. Same way with the right to vote and hold office. Hopefully the same will be said of being president soon enough.

  9. I absolutely agree with you, we do need more women in comedy (particularly more WOC). But we need be able to have this conversation without throwing other women under the bus.
    I’m very disappointed to see yet another feminist writer/publication questioning and invalidating Jessica William’s choice to not take over The Daily Show. It is not her sole responsibility as a woman to put herself in positions where she doesn’t feel comfortable or ready simply to further someone else’s vision of what success means for women, both in the media and just in general. The comparison to Conan O’Brien is not only misguided and unrelated (they are two entirely different people, after all), but as feminists, we should be respecting her choice and the reasoning behind it, regardless of whether or not we would make that choice ourselves. This is one of the major problems with the whole “Lean In” philosophy – it pushes this very narrow idea of what it means to be successful and expects all women to follow along. For further reading, may I suggest this:

  10. Amy Kroin says:

    Hi Citlali,
    I totally respect your point about Jessica Williams. I don’t think her reasoning was invalid and mentioned Conan only to suggest that he was allowed to grow into his role and that’s something we should afford all candidates.

    In the meantime we can all continue to enjoy the many gifts Jessica brings to this show.

  11. I know you have great intentions but your piece is not only sloppy and under-researched but also totally loses any sense of intersectionality. Especially since you, the writer of the article are white. Calling the hiring of a biracial South African “the safe route” and that the choice “blew it” totally disregards how prevalent racism is and how important poc and nonwestern voices are in the media. Jessica Williams has said she isn’t interested in hosting so why are you pointing out that others haven’t been ready. She said shes not interested so stop talking over her.

  12. Penelooe Haru Snioper says:

    As a proud Feminist, an early subscriber to MS magazine from the beginning,, an immigrant and a woman if color. I am very dismayed by your article.

    Sad to say, the women comedians today do hot hold my interest enough to watch then for 1 hour.

    The choice by Comedy Central and Jon Stewart on his replacement, is, I think, progress. He is Funny, articulate and the daxt he us an African msb, is a plus.

    No longer do I cast my vote based on gende, but, on who is the most socially progressive and a good Feminist.

  13. Jen Rafsky says:

    I think folks are getting lost in the weeds by focusing excessively on this post’s very quick mention of Jessica Williams. Elizabeth Warren has said she’s not interested in running for president but that hasn’t stopped tons of people and organizations from trying to enlist her. I think the writer was just trying to point out that she’s qualified.

    Comedy Central is a white male bastion & it needs to commit to feminism in a real way. Maybe they talked to Amy P. and Amy S. Those are TWO WOMEN. As this piece points out, there are many others that could have fit the bill.

  14. Samantha says:

    I don’t know where to begin: The condescending interrogation of Jessica Williams’ statement that she did not want to host the daily show or the beginning with the declaration of white women’s names well casually throwing in a few black and brown women for good “intersectional” measure? While I actually agree that women of color’s voices are critical,necessary and deserve to be represented in media, your piece highlights was so few black and brown women fuck with white feminism. further, it perpetuates an idea that black women have been railing against for literally centuries: that to celebrate black men is in antithetical to the demand for justice and equity and representation of black women. Honestly, this was a perfect representation of what white feminism looks like and I offer you and endless seats for your opinion.

  15. IcouldBeAnyone says:

    Here’s the thing. Why can’t a woman host a late-night talk show also? Someone, go ahead, start one, and if it’s good, maybe the rest of us will watch. The first female astronaut sure enough didn’t sit on her ass and wait to be invited into space.

    • What? You do not just start a tv show like you put on a pair of pants. It would have to be picked up by one of the networks to have a shot. And those are decisions made by (mostly white male) tv executives. There are shows/characters/hosts that get pitched that the public will never see because the networks make the call to try it or not. Maybe some of those are bad decisions made from a narrow mindset. We will never really know since we arent aware of all the pitches. And I dont think Netflix is getting into the late show business, though who knows.

      What astronauts have to do with it I have no idea. You are making unnecessary comparisons. No one is talking about an undeserved invite. Anyone who gets the host job presumably is being recognized for hard work and success in the field, not sitting on their ass. The question is why that has yet to be extended to one of the plethora of funny women in Hollywood. Simple.

  16. I think you criticizers are missing Amy’s point. The new host may be funny. Hopefully he is. But no late night comedy hosts that are female since 1986 is very wrong and needs to be addressed. If some woman are reluctant to do these types of shows it is likely because women in the public eye are much more likely to be criticized for very personal reasons ( what they wear , if they are single, family size, choosing to continue working while pregnant, told they are too fat or too skinny or too old or too young, etc) and not about their work. And often the criticizers are other women. We need to learn to be more supportive of other women so that we can see women in the public eye and comfortable in positions of influence.
    We should all focus on women’s work, womens’ messages, and stop watching shows and buying magazines that belittle women for their looks, normal aging , clothing choices and family or relationship choices. This is what will send a clear message. If you do disagree with a women’s message try to do it in a respectful way. One person showing respect leads the way for others to do so.

  17. Robert Radin says:

    I agree with Jennifer’s comment — I find it concerning that so many people, here & on other blogs, feel the need to belittle writers when making their comments. It’s mean and unproductive. More to the point, I think the writer makes a lot of excellent points here, and disparaging her as a “white feminist” is what’s sloppy. It’s great that Comedy Central isn’t all-white anymore but it’s time for the network to give women more of a shot. That means hosting gigs, that means more women writers (Colbert only had one), that means more women on air.

    • Carol M says:

      I totally agree with Robert….and thank him for making these points.
      I’m deeply disturbed by the negative, small-picture, mean-spirited, comments, apologetic for overwhelming male dominance in popular culture & the media! Especially by women….so many commenters seem to have internalized the male patriarchal voices [regardless of their color]. Come on…it is 2015…and women make up over half of the world and the U.S. The state of female representation in the media is beyond appalling. And let’s also stop trashing Euro-women…that’s part of the strategy. Always has been..and is now! Divide and conquer! What a different standard we use for racial vs. gender equality/progress!
      Thanks Robert!!

  18. I agree with Jennifer and am rather taken aback by this thread of women jumping all over Amy for simply making an obvious point. It’s like you have to blame the messenger. Late night comedy is an all male bastion that has no business continuing its exclusive club. We should all be outraged. The network should be pummeled for overlooking all these good female choices. They should be out there courting young women to take the stage. We hold up half the world for goodness sake. And we birthed every human being on the planet. We should be seen and heard in every public venue. Keep writing, Amy. Your perspective is right on from where this old crone stands.

  19. Why is late-night comedy “a male bastion”? Who are the advertisers on late-night comedy, and who are they trying to reach? Could it be that men are the target audience there, just like they are the target audience of NPR (I’ve seen the research) and most other media, because they tend to have more money than women and especially the men who stay up late at night watching TV are most likely to be single and spending that money on their whims rather than on kids or mortgages? Sure women are funny – especially to women. But the funny women get chosen for other times of day. Judge Judy, anyone?

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