The Daily Show and The Colbert Report were both responses to the Bush years. They were about the alienation liberals felt from their country at a moment when Fox News seemed the authentic expression of the American psyche and George W. Bush kept winning elections.
And then liberals began winning elections. The constant crises of Obama’s early presidency gave the shows plenty to work with at first, but as the sirens quieted and Washington slowly froze into gridlock, the shows began to lose steam. The disappointments of the Obama administration didn’t offer the comic fodder of the outrages of the Bush administration. Colbert and Stewart became the beloved voices of the dominant political coalition; punching Fox News was punching down. Colbert announced his move to CBS. Stewart announced his retirement.
Their replacements — Trevor Noah at The Daily Show and Larry Wilmore in Colbert’s slot — are responses to the Obama era. Both are talented black comedians with a particular skill for limning America’s complicated, and often infuriating, racial politics. Their work on The Daily Show focused on the racial controversies of the Obama era. And their takeover is a recognition of one of the lessons of Obama’s presidency: American politics isn’t moving past race. It’s moving into it. And so, too, is the news business.