The comedy world owes Jon Stewart a huge debt – just not necessarily for his performance on The Daily Show. Sure, he was an excellent ringleader in the circus of political satire: The man could furrow his brow and gasp in mock-terror with the best of them. And yes, his interviews were sharp and engaged. But where Stewart is truly owed our gratitude, and where his Daily Show legacy will be felt for at least a generation or two, is in the so-called "correspondents" he unleashed upon the entertainment world – a pack of genius-level comic minds who have since reshaped the entire industry. As Stewart exits The Daily Show, and the series begins its third era (how quickly have we forgotten Craig Kilborn?), here's a quick look at the show's most influential players.
The icons: Over the course of Stewart's 16-year reign, a revolving cast of side players came and went through The Daily Show's intense comedy wringer – a small handful of whom have arguably become even bigger than Stewart himself. Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert and John Oliver were all comedy veterans of a sort when they showed up on the Comedy Central series, but by the time they left, they were genuine superstars. Carell, for instance, went on to headline NBC's improbably successful adaptation of Ricky Gervais's The Office before dominating films of every genre (witness his Academy Award nomination for last year's dark drama Foxcatcher). Colbert will take over David Letterman's seat on CBS's The Late Show this September (even if it will be sans his right-leaning blowhard persona). And Oliver? Well, he's now dominating headlines every Monday morning, thanks to his incendiary and oft-viral takedowns on HBO's Sunday-night sensation Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. (Ed Helms, meanwhile, was this close to joining the list – had this past weekend's reboot of the Vacation series not crashed and burned.)
The heir apparents: Although his Comedy Central series The Nightly Show is still finding its footing, Larry Wilmore is one of the most exciting comedians in the talk show landscape today, as righteous in his anger and sharp in his wit as Stewart ever was. Whether his show, which took over The Colbert Report's slot this past January, will become as iconic as either Stewart or Colbert's series is doubtful – but it's still a nightly jolt to the senses. We can only be so hopeful for Samantha Bee's upcoming TBS series, which, according to the network, promises to "apply her smart and satirical point of view to current and relevant issues" – a Daily Show-esque logline if there ever was one.
The hey-it's-those-guys: You may not always remember the names of Rob Corddry, Matt Walsh, John Hodgman, Rob Riggle, Jason Jones, Dan Bakkedahl, Demetri Martin, Aasif Mandvi or Kristen Schaal, but you will always feel a vague sense of familiarity when seeing their mugs pop up on sitcoms, movies and talk shows – as they often do. Their tenures on The Daily Show were varied – Corddry was practically a legend, while Bakkedahl and Schaal never caught fire – but each have carved out their own success in the comedy world, from Riggle's constant presence in the films of Will Ferrell to Mandvi's work on HBO's The Brink.
The outliers: Olivia Munn and Josh Gad are funny people, no doubt. But their post-Daily Show careers have veered more toward big-budget blockbusters (Frozen for Gad, the upcoming X-Men: Apocalypse for Munn) than comedy projects, which make their Comedy Central stints all the more curious. It's not every show, though, that can claim credit for introducing audiences to both Olaf the talking snowman and the spandex-wearing mutant Psylocke.