There are moments that demand more than a smart joke from comedians who occupy seats of power right on the fault line between comedy and news. We saw this weekend, with SNL‘s cold open and the start of Last Week Tonight, that the situation in the Middle East is spurring some pause when it comes to jumping in the usual way. This isn’t a cartoonishly inept power battle in Congress, it’s something heavier. And yet, as we said in this conversation with Michael Kosta, this week’s Daily Show host, in all world events there’s always an asshole in the room who is ripe for mocking.
So, how is The Daily Show going to approach this unique moment when it comes back tonight at 11 for the first time in 5 months? We spoke with Kosta about that, what hosting means to him, his other plans for the show, and Roy Wood Jr’s exit.
What have you been up to during this long period of inactivity with the strikes?
I’ve been a dad. It was a super dad summer, had my second kid, so. The strike is hard because work is a great… It’s great for a lot of reasons, especially at The Daily Show. It’s a fun place. We’re friends. It’s a Daily Show family. But the time away to spend with my brand new daughter was nice.
Does that time away sort of rewire your ambition, rewire your plans? Does it make you want to be able to find ways to have more of that time as your daughter is growing up?
Yeah, there’s a part of me that thinks, “Oh, oh no, this is going to hurt me comedically. I’m just going to want to be a family (man), be Dad, coach the Little Leagues.” All it really does is makes me love them more, and then also want to be ambitious, and hardworking, and funnier, selfishly, just so my daughter thinks Dad is cool.
It’s definitely work hard, play hard. The more intense you are as a dad, the more you really want to maximize your work time, and be really good at it. That’s why this is such a fun opportunity for me. It’s like, this is what I’ve worked for for so long. It’s only four days, but shit, man, what an opportunity, what an at-bat I get to have. And my daughter’s six months old, so we will record it. I’ll show it to her when she gets older.
Your week is happening in the middle of one of the worst moments in a long time. It’s already a horrific humanitarian crisis. An old Daily Show sketch with Jon and the correspondents recirculated recently that was talking about how hard it is to talk about Israel and Palestine. So, whattya got?
Yeah, it’s like you don’t even know how to ask the question.
Well, what’s your plan? What’s your planning, I guess? Because obviously, you can’t reveal too much, but I imagine you’ve spent some time thinking about it. How do you sort of approach this?
This is The Daily Show. We cover what’s in the headlines. And as a host, I love the idea that you can’t back away from stuff. You’ve got to take it. And I didn’t have a roadmap for what the stories would be for my week. This might be the hardest topic that exists. It’s horrifying what’s happening. You call it a humanitarian crisis, I agree with that. Essentially, the short answer is I need to and want to learn more, and the very first guest we’re having is Ian Bremmer, who’s a political scientist. He’s going to help me. And when I say me, I mean you, I mean us.
People are paralyzed with the thought of speaking about this topic, because it’s so touchy, old, layered. I need to speak to someone that can help break this down for me, and that’s the plan. But we’re not going to ignore it. We’re not going to shy away because there’s a new person hosting and we’re relaunching. This is what The Daily Show does, what we do, and who we are. So in an odd way, we embrace that difficulty, and our goal is to knock it out.
Here’s a question I don’t know how to ask: Is there a moment where it’s appropriate for The Daily Show to do what it does and find people to point at and mock in the middle of this situation — because there’s an asshole in every situation — or is it just such a loaded topic, that there’s no way? Is it like Jon coming back after 9/11 or do you try to get people to, not laugh at the situation, but laugh around the situation? Because it’s a comedy show, first and foremost.
Well, yeah, it’s a comedy show, so that is the lens that we’ll approach it with, and we have an excellent team of people to also rely on.
I don’t know who that character is yet. It’s still maybe early, maybe someone or something will pop up, but also we got to get this time and breathe, and get a better perspective on what exactly is going on. And I think right now, so many people are seeing their social media posts, it’s all over the place. It’s just like, we need to know what exactly is happening, myself included. What is fact? So we’re bringing on people smarter than me, in particular. This is important to me to have Ian Bremmer be my first guest. He knows this topic, he knows the geography, he knows the history. Help me.
Well, what do you have beyond that story? I know the hosts have all had the chance to build significant field pieces when they’ve come into this.
I’m trying really hard to cover the environment in a way that is interesting, funny, and helpful. I think we get inundated with climate change. We get inundated with these sad stories of Earth. And I’m a Michigander. My very first piece ever at The Daily Show was about the Great Lakes. I cover a lot of water quality. It’s happened on purpose because I pitched those things. I’m doing a deep dive into water in this country. It’s the most simple attribute of life, and in a way, we’re privileged that we get to discuss some of the other points that anger us in our society, but without the simplest form, water, we can’t even get mad at anything else. So I’ll be covering that.
Environmental law, there’s a field piece in California that I believe is on the docket, where some very savvy environmental lawyers realize that the definition of fish could include bees. So bees are fish. And there’s a lot of people fighting that. I go, I explore that. It’s fun, and it’s sad that you need to be a Stanford law student and professor who knows environmental law frontwards and backwards to find some way to protect seven different species of bumblebees.
How much of this is a summary statement of, “This is what my version of The Daily Show would be,” versus, again, dealing with the Israel-Palestine thing, the Speaker fight, being pulled by the news cycle and having it be whatever the show wants itself to be and whatever the world needs it to be at this point? What’s the balance there?
Yeah, that’s a great question, one that I’ll probably be able to answer better Friday morning. No, I mean, I’ve been on the show for seven years. I was amazed. Wednesday, we did a run through. I get the script. So many jokes felt like I wrote those jokes. So many jokes, I said, “That’s perfect. That’s what I would say.” They do know me. I think that part of the benefit of relaunching after five months off with someone in The Daily Show family is this exact reason. They know me. They’ve written for me for a long time. It’s just further reiterated my belief that when we do these field pieces, really put your heart and soul into them. You don’t know when they’re going to air. Oh, shit, I might be hosting. Let’s pull up that piece on the bees or fish. So I’m just trying to always leave my mark anytime I’m on the show, and I think if you do that slowly over the course of a very long time, not just the staff and the writing staff, but also the viewers get to know you, and that shapes your show when you get a shot.
Can you put into words what the impact is going to be of not having Roy Wood around, just as a coworker, as a friend, as an All-Star correspondent who I’m sure pulls a lot of attention for the show?
He definitely was someone whose insight, effort, and work ethic was easy to take for granted, because he was just always on point, anytime we did a piece…he just delivered. He delivered. So we will miss him. I will miss him. I’ve known Roy a very long time, before The Daily Show. He used to intercept me at The Comedy Store before we were both on The Daily Show and help me with bits. I remember the first time he really helped me with a bit. I was kind of looking at him and going, “Who the hell is this guy? And why are his suggestions so helpful?” He really understands and knows comedy, and we’ll miss him. You can’t replace him, because he’s one of those impact players, so we’ll miss him. He’s not dead. He’s still going to be in my life. But I’m sad to see him go, but I also think he’s got to do what’s right for him, and he believes that’s the case. It’s hard. It’s going to be hard.
With his exit and the way he kind of described it, with the idea that you can’t be in Plan A when you’re trying to develop Plan B, is there a part of you that can sympathize with that and see that in your own life at a certain point in time? If this doesn’t become the permanent thing and you’re not the permanent host, do you need to start having those conversations with yourself and your family?
Yeah, the phrase I like is jump and the net will appear. That’s kind of what I was reading when Roy was saying, “I don’t have a plan. I can’t even focus on Plan B when I’m in the middle of Plan A,” or whatever it was he said. Yeah, I mean, it begs a bigger question, is the correspondent role just a stepping stone to the hosting role? If that’s the case, it has a terrible track record, in the sense that Jon Stewart, Trevor Noah, maybe Trevor was a contributor, I’m not sure. But I am not being a correspondent on The Daily Show because I want to be the host of The Daily Show. I love that I get to comedically tackle society’s problems, trick people into learning something, and showcase what I think is my personal funny point of view.
Of course, we’re independent contractors. We’re always thinking about what’s next. We always got another script coming. We always are thinking about stuff. But that’s how you get the correspondent position in the first place. You’re a savvy, hardworking, funny person. That doesn’t go away just because you stop being a correspondent on The Daily Show.
But again, like you said before, this is an opportunity here for you to show who you are, show what you can do to a bigger audience, to get more exposure. More eyes are going to be on you. So I’m sure there’s a benefit to that and the potential to see what else is out there. That’s a part of it, too, right?
When I was 16, I used to come home from school, lay on the floor at my house, and watch Craig Kilborn’s Daily Show. And I would look up at the TV and I would say, “What is this? How is this even a thing? Who are these people? How would they call this a job?” And I’m not exaggerating. Every time I open the studio door and I walk in, at 44-years-old, I go, “I can’t believe that somehow this connected the dots and I’m walking through this same door.” It blows my mind. So if I really lay in bed at night and think, “Holy shit, Monday, you’re running this thing,” I can terrify myself. But also, that same intrigue and excitement that got me to turn it on when I was 16, it’s fun. It’s fun. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to host. I cannot control anything else that happens other than my effort and my attitude during this week. So all I can guarantee you is I’m going to try really fucking hard, and I’m going to try to have a lot of fun.