The industry surrounding comedy news has experienced tectonic shifts in just the last few months. Stephen Colbert left for late night, replaced by Larry Wilmore. Soon after, Jon Stewart announced on air that soon, he too will be leaving Comedy Central. Together, Stewart and Colbert formed a duo that single-handedly changed the way we see news. Instead of the depressing chore that the 24-hour news cycle has become, we were given a format that both informed and entertained, making Colbert and Stewart two of the most trusted men in the industry. But with the departure of Stewart from The Daily Show, we’re about to have a vacuum to fill. Enter John Oliver.
Oliver’s Last Week Tonight exceeded even the wildest of expectations in its inaugural year. In just its first season, it topped the ratings of mainstay Real Time With Bill Maher. He’s taken on hot-button issues like homophobia, drone strikes, and foreign affairs with a thoroughness rivaling that of the most accomplished investigative reporters. Having just been renewed through 2017, John Oliver is finding himself atop the mountain at the perfect time.
During his short run on HBO, we’ve already seen Oliver enact movements toward issues like net neutrality, nutritional supplements, and even the tobacco industry, veering away from the typical fare of Stewart and Colbert’s skewering of networks like Fox News and CNN. In fairness, personalities like Stewart exist for a different purpose, and that’s to show us the absurdity of what passes for journalism in the modern era. Oliver though, has become as much an activist for social justice as an entertainer.
Once Stewart officially departs, the landscape for comedy news will be vastly different. His Daily Show replacement has yet to be named, while Wilmore is falling short of The Colbert Report’s astronomical ratings. Meanwhile, John Oliver has never been more successful, especially in terms of his accessibility. All of his 15-20 minute investigative pieces are available to stream on YouTube, making him readily available to anyone with an Internet connection (Stewart and Colbert stream via Comedy Central’s own ad-filled video player). It’s hard not to stand up and pay attention to the incredible work of Last Week Tonight, especially in a climate where the winds are shifting decidedly in Oliver’s direction.
For years, Jon Stewart made himself into a cultural icon. His spell on The Daily Show pioneered the format of comedy news into something to be taken seriously, giving anyone stepping into his place huge shoes to fill. Stephen Colbert played the yin to Stewart’s yang to perfection, and the next steps in their respective careers mark the end of an era. But it also begins the era of John Oliver as the go-to voice of sanity in an otherwise insane world.
The world of investigative journalism is changing before our very eyes. It seems as though the only time we see anything substantial, it’s because an ex-CIA operative or hacker leaked classified documents. Last Week Tonight is the answer to this, providing in-depth reporting that targets those abusing their power and wealth. A worthy successor to the throne indeed.