Home Politics Politics Lists

25 Best ‘Daily Show’ Correspondents

From Colbert to Carell, John Oliver to John Hodgman, nobody helped Jon Stewart report the fake news better

Stephen Colbert, Jessica Williams and Jason Jones

Stephen Colbert, Jessica Williams and Jason Jones

Frank Micelotta/Getty; Neilson Barnard/Getty; Ethan Miller/Getty

They're collectively known as "The Best F#@king News Team Ever," a crack team of comedians capable of deflating delusional nincompoops, screaming truth to power, bantering with Jon Stewart over the issues of the day, and — the significance of this last part can't be overstated — making complete jackasses of themselves in order to score ideological points and get laughs. They are the Daily Show's correspondents, a fearless group of men and women who brave ridicule (and in one case, a near-beating) to bring you, the viewer, the fake news. They were here before Stewart took over the late-night program in 1999 and transformed into a powerhouse institution of political satire/commentary, and they'll be here after the host says goodbye on August 6th.

The BFNTE's ranks have changed over the years, with some folks only making a few brief appearances, and others staying on for over a decade; a surprising number honed their chops and then went on to successful movie and TV careers. They've helped make the show what it is, so we feel it's high time we celebrated their contributions. These are the cream of The Daily Show's correspondents and contributors crop, the ones whose field reports, convention coverage and recurring editorial segments still crack us up long after the issues themselves have come and gone. (While we'd love to rank every single one from best to worst, we're capping it at the top 25 contenders. All apologies, Olivia Munn, Hasan Minhaj, Nancy Walls, and Bob Wiltfong; you were taken from us too soon, Michael Che.)

Play video
25

Brian Unger (1996-1998)

Of the original team from Craig Kilborn's tenure, no one captured that fake news gravitas better than Brian Unger. As the handsome, smug, but ultimately substance-less correspondent, he helped establish the show's bread and butter of interviewing ridiculous people who were completely unaware that they were being lampooned, like the shouting Texas evangelist turned Canadian soft-spoken hairstylist Jonathan Bell. SC

Play video
24

Frank DeCaro (1996-2003)

Gay icons are everywhere now on cable and network TV, but circa the mid-to-late Nineties, flamboyant, out-and-proud TV personalities were rare, and even fewer were funny. Frank DeCaro's huggable bear-ish persona made him palatable to the show's early bro-dude demographic; by the time Stewart took over, the comedian had established himself as a fixture, and his Out at the Movies review segments ("Lord of the Rings is the perfect movie for the holidays — a three-hour epic about returning bad jewelry!") and Oscar coverage were some of the more memorable pre-politicized TDS bits. Pop-culture bloggers and shows like Best Week Ever that are fueled by catty criticism owe DeCaro a debt. SC

Play video
23

Josh Gad (2009-2011)

Known better as the original lead in Broadway's uber-smash The Book of Mormon (or the voice of Olaf the snowman from Frozen, if you have kids), Gad only had a handful of appearances. But always made the most of his comic persona and his physique: The red hot pants he donned during the New York City gay pride parade and the shorts and tank top he sported in the piece on government recommendations for healthy eating is something you really must see/can never un-see. SC

Play video
22

Trevor Noah (2015)

Yes, South Africa's Trevor Noah is no Jon Stewart, and he barely managed to log in a a handful of appearances before being handed the keys to the franchise. But go back to his inaugural segment — a bit called "Spot The Africa" that poked holes in our stereotypical assumptions about where the third world really is — and it's obvious he had the goods from the get-go. In just a few brief spots, Noah demonstrated a broad world view and a very personal take on race and culture that set him apart from his peers. And as the show's new man behind the desk, he'll likely approach the gig more like combo of Oliver, Wilmore, and Mandvi than a Stewart stand-in — the host as super-correspondent. SC

Play video
21

Dan Bakkedahl (2005-2007)

Part of the crew that came in post-Colbert, Second City alum Dan Bakkedahl had that rumpled beat reporter look and the appropriate trenchcoat to be the show's Senior White House Correspondent. With the Bush years so ripe for satire, the comic nailed a number of signature bits on climate change, gay rights, and the Iraq war — but the hidden camera parody of news magazine shows like What Would You Do? is Bakkedahl at his best. SC

Play video
20

Beth Littleford (1996-2000)

A reliable presence during the Kilborn era, Littleford specialized in sending up showbiz infotainment vapidity: interviewing celebrities in the sort of vaseline-lensed, fake-homey settings that would make Barbara Walters salivate, or doing an Entertainment Tonight-style news round-up. ("Judging from audience's reactions to Battlefield Earth, it's a real laugh-out-loud drama.") But her field pieces were usually better — after asking Tennessee Titans linebacker Dennis Stallings tells her he plays defense during a Super Bowl interview, she counters with "What makes you so defensive? Have you considered seeing someone about that?" DF

Play video
19

Rob Riggle (2006-2008)

This former Marine reserve officer's style could never be described as deft or subtle, but Rob Riggle's wall-punching, full-throttle approach made this man's man a great contrast to "pussies" like Stewart and John Oliver. Riggle was at his best playing the big, brash meatheaded American, especially when covering the war in Iraq or the 2008 Summer Olympic Games, where he managed to offend two cultures at once by wailing in fake Hebrew at the Great Wall of China.

Play video
18

Jordan Klepper (2014-Present)

One of the latest addition to the Best F#@king News Team Ever (he beats new guy Hasan Minhaj by eight months), this former Second City and UCB performer has kept the age-old TDS correspondent of acting like a complete, unrepentant numbskull. Brought in to replace John Oliver, Klepper quickly settled into a I'll-do-anything groove — which includes dressing up like a dog over police sensitivity training in Austin and schooling doctors on Florida's don't-ask-don't-tell policies on gun ownership with a fake bullet hole in his side. DF

Play video
17

Kristen Schaal (2008-Present)

Senior Women's Issues Correspondent Kristen Schaal has mastered the art of making Jon Stewart feel awkward and wrong about gender-based topics in the same way that Wilmore did about race. She's also mastered the art of reducing him to a giggling mess in every one of her appearances at the desk. Schaal often found humor in a sort of flipped feminism, like when she advocated that the proliferation of sexy Halloween costumes are actually a sign of progress: "When my mom was growing up, she only had two options… sexy secretary or sexy meter maid." We wish she was on more. SC

Play video
16

Al Madrigal (2011-Present)

This stand-up comic's addition to the TDS stable of correspondents does more than offer a much-needed Latino perspective to the show; his semi-stoner-ish persona when he's in the field and way with an off-the-cuff dig has given the show some priceless moments/zingers as of late. Our personal favorite came during his recent "El Jebe" riff, when Stewart asked Madrigal about Hilary Clinton's immigration speech and he made mention of the candidate delivering her speech "in what is clearly the adult-circulation room of a public library…I guess she figures hey, if it's a good enough place for homeless guys to masturbate in, it's good enough for pandering to Latinos." DF

Play video
15

Demetri Martin (2005-2008)

Never mind that he was in his 30s at the time — the Daily Show hired stand-up Demitri Martin as its Senior Youth Correspondent to present a segment called Trendspotting, aimed at highlighting hot trends like life coaching and social media. But it was really just an excuse for the eccentric comic to display his boyish appeal and incorporate the charming hand-drawn graphs and signs he used to great effect in his standup. He'd eventually get his own Comedy Central series (Important Things With Demetri Martin) that felt like extended versions of his quirky bits. SC

Play video
14

Mo Rocca (1998-2003)

A holdover from the previous regime but an early Stewart-era MVP — his Indecision 2000 segments were a key part of the show's election coverage — the bow-tied Rocca loved to drop in on folks like Herman Abrams, who ran a museum dedicated to things that start with the letter B. Proving there’s barely a line between fake satirical news and the real thing, Rocca is now doing pieces for CBS Sunday Morning that aren't much different than the oddball folksy stories he was known for on The Daily Show. SC

Play video
13

John Hodgman (2005-Present)

Jon Stewart loved Hodgman's 2005 book-plugging guest appearance so much he had him join the team as its esoteric fabulist. As the author grew out his mustache, his bookish Resident Expert character morphed into the Deranged Millionaire who spoke up for the persecuted 0.01 percenters who hunt humans for sport, hide money in the Cook Islands, and colonize Mars. Fingers crossed that he nabs the Senior White Privilege Correspondent slot for the upcoming 2016 Presidential election. SC

Play video
12

Aasif Mandvi (2006-Present)

Mandvi admitted when he debuted on the show (which was actually the same day he interviewed for the job) that he was just trying to do his best Stephen Colbert impersonation. As the Senior Middle East Correspondent, Senior Foreign-Looking Correspondent and Senior Muslim Correspondent, the Indian-born comic actor injected much-needed context and humor into turbulent international stories. His field piece on Sharia Law threatening Alabama is one of the show's best examples of giving the unsuspecting interview subjects just enough rope to hang themselves. SC

Play video
11

Larry Willmore (2006-2014)

As the show's Senior Black Correspondent, Wilmore was the guy the show turned to when race issues got a little too dicey for Stewart. The veteran TV writer brought wit and wisdom to delicate subjects, but he also knew when to unload the appropriate outrage. Case in point: his take on the Trayvon Martin trial with stand-in host John Oliver, in which he opened up the conversation with a simple "fuck you!," before dismantling the right's inability to see race in even the most blatantly racist events. His Nightly Show will seem like even more of a godsend after Stewart departs for non-Daily pastures. SC

Play video
10

Rob Corrdry (2002-2006)

Few correspondents have said "Jooooonnn" with as much dickish panache as Corddry, who perfected a wonderful whiny, alpha-asshole persona during his correspondent stint. His smarminess felt dangerously close to the egotistical peacocking of actual news anchors, which only made his self-seriousness that much more of a well-deployed weapon. (On Fidel Castro's ailing condition: "They say he's suffering from diverticulosis, which — and I'm no doctor — sounds made up.") And no one on the show has ever looked better in a war-reporter's vest. DF

Play video
9

Wyatt Cenac (2008-2012)

Cenac's recent recounting of an argument he and Stewart had over a Herman Cain impersonation suggested his time at TDS wasn't exactly turbulence-free — but it'd suck if more folks ended up remembering this anecdote more than his gut-busting segments and sharp comic voice he lent the show. This sleepy-eyed comedian knew when to go for the sly, slow-and-low attack and when to turn things up to 11; he also had great chemistry with Stewart, as evidenced by this October 2011 piece in which the men discussed inappropriately named rivers and lakes. What does it say about America, the host asks. "It says there aren't enough black people making maps!" Cenac screams, before breaking into the "lost verses" of America the Beautiful. Classic. DF

Play video
8

Ed Helms (2002-2006)

Before he was getting his face tattooed in Hangover movies and helping The Office transition to a Carell-less existence, Helms was reporting on benign-mole removal, New Jersey's gas station issues and eagle overpopulation for the show with an attitude that was part aw-shucks Southern kid and part preppy a-hole. He once told New York magazine that those interview segments were "tough emotionally, because you're having interactions with people that are very literally uncomfortable." Yet the comedian seemed to thrive in bits that pushed that uncomfortableness to the extreme, especially his jaw-dropping, Jackass-style 2004 segment about gun ownership. It ends with Helms chugging whiskey at a firing range and risking serious bodily harm at an Arizona biker bar. You'll swear you're watching a snuff film in the making. DF

Play video
7

Lewis Black (1996-Present)

Every time his theme song came on — a slightly tweaked version of the AC/DC song that gave the Back in Black segment its name — you knew what you were going to get: conniption fits of fury, flying spittle and yelling. Lots and lots of yelling. So often, when the news got too infuriating, Stewart could do nothing put his head in his hands and sigh. Lewis Black was, in a way, the host's anger translator, constantly thrusting a finger at the camera and into the eye of idiots. His genuine outrage at the fake outrage during the 2012 election's "you didn't build that" meme is Black at his vein-popping, profanity-bleeping best. We're so happy the most wrathful man on TV is sticking around. SC

Play video
6

Jason Jones (2005-2015)

He had a blandly handsome, unshaven everydude look and a calm Canadian demeanor — which made his field reporting feel that much more subversive and ridiculous. Jason Jones would do anything for a laugh, including showing off a lower-back lion tattoo (with thong underwear peeking out of his slacks) or acting like The Music Man's Harold Hill in a Koch brothers-controlled small town. But his best pieces used his unflappable straight-man act to a tee — whether he was dealing with angry Russian homophobes or strident Redskins fans, Jones had a knack for talking to truth to idiots in a way that seemed benign and still went off like a bomb. DF

Play video
5

Jessica Williams (2012-Present)

Given the way the Senior Youth Correspondent and Senior Beyoncé Correspondent has become such a key part of the Daily Show's comedy commando squad, it's tough to imagine she’s only been on the show for a few years. But the former Nickelodeon star has not only taken on touchy subjects like stop-and-frisk procedures and the depressing double standards behind Florida's Stand Your Ground law (complete with the show’s greatest mic drop moment), she's done so with an attack that can go from faux-daffy to blistering in a heartbeat. There are fewer better examples of the fine line between funny and fuck-you fury on TDS than her "Claps and Catcalls" bit about everyday sexual harassment: Williams starts by broadly mocking a "classy" Fox commentator and ends with her staring into the camera as she lets dickheads known that "getting the horny clap of approval does not make my day, it actually creeps me out." The fact that she's sticking around the Daily Show ensures we will be as well. DF

Play video
4

Steve Carell (1999-2005)

The first big breakout star of the TDS correspondent set, Carell was already perfecting his confident-dimwit chops with his "Produce Pete" character and reports like his takedown of "dangerous" yule-log programming. ("Graphic images of sex and violence, beamed into your living room at the speed of…air.") As one half of the double-act "Even Stephven" with his friend Stephen Colbert, he could match his partner step for deadpan-lunacy step — the moment when he breaks into an uluation during a debate on religion is damned near priceless. "His ability to find comedy in moments you don't realize is amazing," Stewart has said. You could tell he had a certain It quality even back then. 

Play video
3

Samantha Bee (2003-2015)

She would be an invaluable addition to The Best F#@king News Team Ever even if she hadn't performed an epic interpretive theater piece on Fox's show The Five; the fact that Samantha Bee's eight-minute beatnik freak-out remains one of the funniest, most imaginative stand-alone correspondent segments to air on the program to date only makes us love her (and miss her) that much more. Like fellow field reporter/husband Jason Jones, Bee excelled in playing dumb in order to lull her interviewees into shooting their mouths off. But watch her famous 2008 Republican convention segment in which she tries to get attendees to use the word "choice" regarding Bristol Palin's pregnancy. Exposing hypocrisy and double standards was a must-have skill set for TDS correspondents, but as Bee steadfastly cajoled and nudged those partisan voters, it was like observing a jujitsu master at work. DF

Play video
2

John Oliver (2006-2013)

Although he'd been crushing it as the Senior British Correspondent (especially when royal-birth fever hit the country) and a reporter on the 2012 campaign trail, John Oliver had already distinguished himself as a stellar sidekick. Then, while Stewart was off filming Rosewater in the summer of 2013, the lanky Englishman was recruited to fill in for the moonlighting host; Stewart vouched for him on the basis of Oliver as "someone whose accent makes you believe you can trust him." And thus a star was born: Energized by the Paula Deen, NSA  and Anthony Weiner scandals (you can still picture him doing the "Danger!" dance), his guest-hosting stint made him the hottest person in cable comedy. Oliver's hit HBO show Last Week Tonight will be the closest thing we have to a Stewart-led Daily Show once his mentor departs, but it was his tenure here that help mold him into one of the sharpest satirical performers around. SC

Play video
1

Stephen Colbert (1997-2005)

Bridging the Kilborn and Stewart years, Colbert set the highest of bars for all future TDS correspondents with his square-jawed sanctimony and cable-news bluster, equal parts Stone Phillips and Bill O'Reilly — an approach he would crystalize and turn into a genius piece of performance art on The Colbert Report. (He's credited Stewart for politicizing him as a comedian, yet another thing with have to thank the departing Daily Show host for.) Granted, that exterior would crack a bit on his This Week in God segment, a profound equal-opportunity offender which dared to take on Islam, Scientology, and more. But at his best — like, for example, his coverage of the 2004 Republican convention, or his "Even Stephven" point-counterpoint segments with Carell — Colbert helped firmly establish the show as the go-to place for poking fun at American politics and the media's coverage of it. And that's the truthiness. SC

Show Comments