On Tuesday evening, The Daily Show host Jon Stewart surprised everyone by announcing his plans to leave the desk he's manned for the past 16 years. The unexpected vacancy has left many to wonder who will replace the late-night icon, but the person best suited to sit in the anchor chair might be right under our noses: Daily Show correspondent Jessica Williams.
Currently, every late-night comedy program, on both Comedy Central and network television, has a male host. And save for the recent addition of Larry Wilmore's The Nightly Show, all of these hosts are white. The same could be said for most of the past guests of The Daily Show and its sister satire program The Colbert Report, who were also overwhelmingly white and male.
Not only is Williams hilarious and eminently talented, but including a young woman of color in the mix of late-night hosts would also add some much-needed gender and racial diversity to these programs — something they must invest in if they want to remain relevant and continue to offer pointed commentary about contemporary issues.
The perspective Williams brings to the news is invaluable, and she has repeatedly proven her ability to confront hot-button issues with relatable yet biting humor and fierce intelligence. Here are just a few of the many reasons why Williams is the best choice for the job.
Williams offers a fresh, feminist perspective on topics like catcalling.
When one Fox News host ignorantly dismissed women's complaints about catcalling and another deemed them evidence of a so-called "feminized atmosphere," Williams called their bluff. She revealed what her own "feminized atmosphere" feels like by simply walking down the street and facing frequent, uninvited commentary from men.
"For most guys, it's just a calm, boring commute, but for me it's like I'm competing in a beauty pageant every day," she said, illustrating the point that simply traveling to work can attract comments about her outfit or body. She then took things a step further by inviting a few dozen women into the studio to hear about their experiences with catcalling, underscoring the ugly truth about street harassment with both humor and candid testimony.
Her segment came from experience, and hammered home a point that had been utterly lost on the Fox hosts — that is, harassment can be harrowing and degrading, and certainly isn't flattering.
She has skewered racial profiling.
In 2013, New York City officials weren't showing any signs of ending their controversial stop-and-frisk policy — an invasive, inefficient practice that disproportionately targets black and brown people. Williams utilized bold satire to illustrate just how ridiculous and hypocritical the practice really is.
Speaking on Wall Street, Williams said, "If anything, stop and frisk doesn't go far enough. People need to accept this program as a fact of urban life. And right now, I'm standing in one of New York's most crime-ridden neighborhoods: I'm on Wall Street! The White Bronx. Business Harlem."
Williams also changed the stereotypical criminal profile from one that targets black and brown youth to one that better reflects the average white male working in finance.
"You know, walking around in tailored suits, slicked-back hair, always need sunscreen — if you know what I'm saying," she said. "Yeah, look, I know this is uncomfortable. But if you don't want to be associated with white-collar crime, maybe you shouldn't dress that way!"
She isn't afraid to tackle reproductive health issues.
There has been a steady stream of male-elected officials speaking up about reproductive health only to betray an inexcusable ignorance regarding how vaginas actually work, or even the definition of rape. One recent example is Alabama's HB 494, a parental consent law that allows a family or the state to send a minor in court for obtaining an abortion without parental consent; it also creates an avenue for a fetus to be represented by lawyers in court.
Leave it to Williams to deftly take down such an outrageous idea by interviewing an attorney who advocates for fetuses in court:
Williams: "You get a call from a fetus seeking legal representation. Then what happens?"
McPhillips: "I cannot get a call from a fetus for anything, much less legal representation."
Williams: "So how do you mean confidentiality with your client?"
McPhillips: "Well, of course if you've got an unborn child in somebody else's womb, I cannot communicate with them directly. You know better than to ask the question."
Williams: "Well, I dunno. You have a crazy-ass job, sir."
She confronted the killings of unarmed black people by police and vigilantes.
The initial verdict in the case of Jordan Davis, a black teen killed by a white man in Florida in 2012, was a farce. The killer, Michael Dunn, shot at a vehicle containing the 17-year-old Davis and three of his friends — all of whom were unarmed — after a verbal confrontation over their "loud music" at a gas station. The jury declared a mistrial in the case of the murder, instead convicting Dunn of attempted murder for the other gunshots. (Dunn was later convicted and sentenced for the murder.)
Never one to back away from controversy, Williams decried the ruling as "the cherry on top of the shit sundae that is Black History Month." As Mic's Zak Cheney-Rice noted, she then explained what happened using the metaphor of "fear goggles," or "the lens through which chronically terrified white people look at black kids."
Williams then ended the segment with some tongue-in-cheek pointers for black young people watching at home: "Stay in school. By which I mean if you're at school, stay in the building. If you're at home, stay at home. Don't go wandering into the street where you might scare a white person."
She highlighted the ongoing rape crisis on college campuses.
James Madison University showed everyone exactly how not to handle a rape case last June when it decided to expel the perpetrators only after they graduated — meaning they'd still be able to complete their studies largely without any real accountability.
In a snarky segment, Williams sparred with a bro-type caricature who offered some mindless advice for enjoying a drunken night of fun on campus. Williams juxtaposed his nonchalant approach to partying with her feminine perspective, which encouraged extreme vigilance. Of course, as Mic's Julianne Ross points out, the segment was satirical, and not an actual primer on how to avoid being raped (reminder that the fault always lies with the assailants, and not the victims). But it perfectly illustrated just how different campus environments can feel for men and women.
All of these issues are incredibly important, and having a woman like Williams guiding one of late-night comedy's most iconic programs is a surefire way to keep them at the forefront of our cultural conversation. Let's give her the chance she deserves.