The tumultuous search for a 'Daily Show' host

A controversy over fabricated standup stories reportedly blew up Comedy Central's succession plan

Trevor Noah
Trevor Noah officially departed 'The Daily Show' in 2022
(Image credit: Brad Barket / Getty Images for Comedy Central)

Another year, another iconic show that has found replacing its host isn't easy.

It has been nearly 12 months since Trevor Noah signed off from "The Daily Show," and Comedy Central still hasn't announced a permanent replacement, instead using a rotating lineup of guest anchors throughout 2023. The search for Noah's successor hasn't been smooth sailing, and recent reporting suggests the network was forced to go back to the drawing board after its original plan blew up.

Emotional truths

From the moment Noah announced his exit from "The Daily Show," Hasan Minhaj seemed like an obvious candidate to succeed him. The comedian served as a "Daily Show" correspondent and hosted his own show, "Patriot Act," on Netflix. So it wasn't a shock when Variety reported in August that Minhaj was the leading candidate. 

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But then came a New Yorker exposé that uncovered a series of fabricated stories in Minhaj's standup specials. In "The King's Jester," for example, Minhaj recounted his family's mosque being infiltrated by an FBI informant when he was in high school, and the police arriving after Minhaj said he wanted to get a pilot's license. The comedian also claimed in that special that his daughter was once hospitalized after he opened a letter and white powder, initially feared to be anthrax, spilled on her. Minhaj acknowledged to The New Yorker that the first story was made up and the second was based on an incident where he opened a letter that contained powder, but it never spilled on his daughter, and she was never hospitalized. He argued the "emotional truth" of the Islamophobia-themed anecdotes is what's important, and "the punch line is worth the fictionalized premise."

In the subsequent days, some people defended Minhaj by noting that most comedians exaggerate in their standup, while others criticized him for the false claims. On HBO's "Real Time," Bill Maher compared Minhaj to "Empire" star Jussie Smollett and former President Donald Trump

By late September, Variety reported Comedy Central was "going back to square one" in its host search, though Minhaj was said to still be in the mix. But a few weeks later, Puck reported that Minhaj had officially been informed he isn't getting the "Daily Show" job. According to Puck, Comedy Central's plan to announce Minhaj as the new host over the summer was delayed because of the Hollywood strikes, then derailed by the New Yorker story. Now, a "standoff is looming" and lawyers might get involved, Puck reported, because Minhaj believes he had a closed deal for the gig, while Paramount disagrees.

Why not Roy?

So if Minhaj isn't getting the job, who will? A fan-favorite pick is Roy Wood Jr., who joined "The Daily Show" as a correspondent in 2015 and hosted the 2023 White House Correspondents' Dinner. But then came another wrinkle.

On Oct. 5, Wood told NPR he's quitting "The Daily Show," a decision that appeared partially influenced by the fact he wasn't offered the hosting gig. He told NPR he needed to figure out what he would do next, and he "can't come up with Plan B" while "still working with Plan A." He added, though, that he doesn't hold a grudge against Comedy Central and would still consider the hosting job if it were offered.

"The job of correspondent is the wide receiver, and the host is the quarterback," Wood told Rolling Stone. "And I don’t know that I'm going to be chosen to host. And if I'm not chosen to host, I don’t know if the new host A) will want me, or B) is running an offense that fits me as a wide receiver."

According to Variety, Paramount executives have been "poring over audience research" regarding recent guest hosts. So far, Leslie Jones, Wanda Sykes, Chelsea Handler, Sarah Silverman, Marlon Wayans, Kal Penn, Al Franken and Jordan Klepper are among those who have gotten behind the desk. Could one of them stay there permanently? If the original plan was to select a popular correspondent, Klepper would be another obvious pick. 

Amid all this, former "Daily Show" host Jon Stewart's Apple show abruptly ended due to reported disagreements with the company, leading some fans to float a highly unlikely scenario in which Stewart himself returned. With the future of "The Daily Show" and its place in the late-night landscape up in the air, Comedy Central has said a new permanent host will take over in 2024.

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