Many of Jon Stewart‘s past and current colleagues were in attendance at Saturday night’s Writers Guild Awards ceremony in New York. The Daily Show, The Colbert Report and Daily Show alum John Oliver‘s Last Week Tonight were all nominated for the best comedy/variety series prize, with Last Week Tonight taking home the trophy. Nightly Show host and former Daily Show senior black correspondent Larry Wilmore also served as the emcee for the East Coast ceremony (awards were also handed out at a simultaneous ceremony in L.A., hosted by Lisa Kudrow).
And those who had worked for The Daily Show or its spinoffs, The Colbert Report and The Nightly Show, executive produced by Stewart, were both still saddened by the news of Stewart leaving The Daily Show but eager to see what he does next.
Wilmore said he reacted the same way The Daily Show‘s fans did, but he ultimately understood.
“I was devastated just like everyone else just because of the thought of Jon leaving, but talking to him about it and everything, it feels like it’s time for him to move on,” he told The Hollywood Reporter on the WGA Awards red carpet.
The Nightly Show host found out before the public, revealing that Stewart had told him about a week before he made his announcement. And he joked that he tried to get his boss to snap out of it.
“I slapped him,” he said, pretending to slap someone around. “Shook him a little bit.”
Wilmore had a simple goal for hosting Saturday night’s ceremony: “I want to try to get through the whole show without passing out.”
And while he said he’s always happy to help out the Writers Guild, noting that he’s been on the board of directors and negotiating committee, he joked that when they asked him to host, he thought, “Why did I say yes so quick?”
Former Colbert Report writer Barry Julien was also devastated by Stewart’s news.
“It’s a huge loss for television,” he said. “The show is a cultural touchstone and irreplaceable. I think that loss will really be felt and leave a big hole in TV.”
Julien and his fellow Colbert Report writers have been taking time off since the Comedy Central late-night series ended, before they move on to CBS’ The Late Show with Colbert. He also recalled how most of the show’s offices were transformed into greenrooms for The Report‘s star-studded finale.
“I think I had Keith Olbermann and Jeff Daniels and Cyndi Lauper in my office,” he said.
Meanwhile, Daily Show co-creator Lizz Winstead said Stewart leaving “was an eventuality” but she’s “excited to find out what he’s going to do,” a sentiment echoed by Nightly Show head writer Robin Thede.
And like Thede, Winstead said she was proud of the work Stewart had done, especially in helping to make a show that would continue on without him.
“Jon not only took time to develop himself and his role, he took time to develop a franchise where it felt like a super solid foundation for the next person to come in,” she said. “We’ve seen John Oliver be able to do it. There’s somebody that will come in that will be able to do it because that’s the legacy that Jon left for that person. That’s pretty awesome.”
Winstead said she would like to see a woman as the next host, suggesting Aisha Tyler and Rachel Maddow as “fun choices.”
As for why The Daily Show has endured, Winstead said, “I think what’s made it stick around is it’s unwavering in its bullshit calling, in the sense that its mission is funny first and it’s stuck with that. And its mission isn’t to take sides but to call out anyone who’s abused their power or been a total idiot. And I think sometimes comedians have become truth tellers in a way that maybe journalists have dropped the ball. I think that viewers go, ‘Hey, that’s just coming from his gut and that feels right and that feels like how I feel’ and I think being trusted in that regard is what makes it a success.
The Nightly Show, meanwhile, is still finding its footing, with both Wilmore and Thede saying they’re having fun while continuing to mix things up.
“So far so good. It feels good,” Wilmore said. “I’m kind of in the eye of the hurricane, so a lot of it is out of my purview, but for what we’re doing, we’re having a lot of fun. … We’re a month in, so we’re still finding our bearings.”
Thede added, “Thank God the audience is sticking with us and watching us grow. I think we started at a great place and that just gives us an infinite amount of room to grow.”
Thede is one of the few female writers in late night. And while she said she doesn’t necessarily want to be a role model, she thinks there will be more women working their way onto late night writing staffs.
“Our writing staff is half women, which is unheard of in late night, but that’s how we set out to create a room that would give Larry really diverse voices and I think it makes the show better,” she said.