The following debate appears in a reoccurring series on TheRenaissanceFan.com between creators Frank Anderson and Max Wolter.
Max: Frank, Saturday Night Live (SNL) is of course an institution, producing some of the greatest names in comedy. Over the last decade or so The Daily Show (TDS) has become another source of great comedic talent. So, as a friendly debate, whose alumni are we more impressed with: The Daily Show vs SNL? And in the interest of fairness to The Daily Show and its shorter tenure, let's go with SNL alumni post-2000.
Frank: Well Max, pound for pound The Daily Show is the more reliable talent-delivery system, but for pure weight it's got to be SNL. While SNL does not seem to be producing megastars in the way that it used to, it is still a waypoint for a lot of comedy heavy hitters.
Max: It does seem like the comedy landscape has changed (and may likely shift again with The Daily Show experiencing some big turnover). But I'm super impressed with what The Daily Show alumni have done for themselves. Particularly considering they all essentially played varieties of the same character during their time on TDS.
Frank: You'll get no argument from me. Stephen Colbert is the funniest man on the planet. But even since 2000, here's a few SNL alumnus: Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Will Forte, Fred Armisen, Bill Hader, Jimmy Fallon, Maya Rudolph, Tracy Morgan, Chris Parnell, Andy Samberg, Kristen Wiig, and those are just people who were on for more than one season and have done great work since leaving the show.
Max: Goodness! What a list! Including a ton of names we mutually love. As a testament to the strength of that list, you missed at least one former SNL cast member who has their own TV show... But what I think is interesting is that The Daily Show has lately matched SNL almost star for star. SNL gives us Ferrell, TDS counters with Carrell. SNL throws out Fallon, and now TDS' Colbert has a competing late night show. Interested in a funny lady? SNL's Fey and Poehler compared to TDS' Kristen Schaal and Sam Bee (both are less of household names, but the comedy compares favorably).
Frank: Well, now Schaal makes appearances on The Daily Show, but she is not really from The Daily Show. While we're on the subject, I will point out that far more funny women have come through SNL than The Daily Show, who can really only boast Sam Bee as a great comedy talent.
Max: I'm taking credit for Schaal despite the technicality. She has done great work on a show called “The Daily Show”. God bless her for not wanting to put labels on the relationship. You know that's her style. Though you make a good point. SNL has been a factory for funny women and TDS has been lacking. Though I love me some Jessica Williams, and I'm disappointed she is still on the show and therefore can't help me in this debate.
Frank: Yeah, I didn't even mention Jenny Slate, Michaela Watkins, and Noel Wells, who were each on SNL for a single season and are now doing great stuff elsewhere. I do think that, due to the nature of the two shows, SNL also pumps out more versatile performers, people who can do standup and narrative comedy; Colbert and Carrell notwithstanding.
Max: You certainly see many of the successful TDS alumni sticking to the same lane as the parent show. What's impressive to me though, since that's the basis of our debate, is that the TDS alumni have gone off and created shows that are now doing news comedy better than TDS itself. John Oliver is the prime example. And I contest that his Last Week Tonight is a better show than TDS even when Jon Stewart was still at the desk. Of course he benefits from being unshackled over at HBO, but good for him to grab this opportunity and simply crush it.
Frank: You're not wrong. Additionally, I would say that, even with all those people that I listed earlier having been on the show, SNL is a good now as good now as it has ever been.
Max: Well that's an interesting debate in and of itself. The 2009 SNL cast was packed with talent. Top to bottom, no weaknesses. Today is solid too. But to return to the versatility argument, have any SNL cast members been cast to appear in a big budget action movie like the X-men series? And can you name the former TDS correspondent that I am referring to?
Frank: You are referring to comedy dynamo Olivia Munn. I would counter with Will Forte's "big" budget action film MacGruber, which is sublime.
Max: As far as I know, Munn's still waiting for that apology from Packer fans, btw. MacGruber is legit. We all know that. But it's a 100 minute long SNL sketch, not an action movie. Nice try.
Frank: It is too an action movie! That's what makes it so amazing! What's the best movie starring someone from The Daily Show? 40-Year-Old Virgin?
Max: Um, Hot Tub Time Machine! Obviously! Rob Corrdry for the win!
Max: Well, let me ask you this. Are you more impressed with Will Ferrell's performance in Kicking and Screaming, or TDS alum John Oliver using comedy to change the national debate on net neutrality and boosting donations to women's scholarship foundations? TDS alumni are increasingly rejecting the role of comedians as clowns and are using their wit and platforms to influence.
Frank: Nah, I absolutely will not denigrate how valuable The Daily Show, and the people who have come out of it, are, especially Oliver and Colbert. But let's not forget that former SNL writer Adam McKay directed the now Academy Award nominated The Big Short.
Max: Oh, nice, bringing in the Academy after you spent the last two weeks slamming them :)
Frank: Fair enough, but still….
Max: Certainly, a point well made. And perhaps in the spirit of this not really being a debate about The Daily Show vs SNL, so much as a discussion of all the comedians we love, we can come to the conclusion that we are very lucky to be enjoying movies and TV at a time when comedy is excellent, diverse, and now powerful.
Frank: Agreed. Max, until next week, "I'm Chevy Chase, and you're not".
Max: And I will go with a clunky Even Stevphens reference, a joke that should have dawned on me much earlier in this debate! Have a great night, Frank.
So, now it's your turn. What do you think? Who won? What side are you on.