John Oliver Turns Out to Be the Perfect Replacement for Jon Stewart on Daily Show

Not too cold, not too hot … just right.

John Oliver is no Jon Stewart, but he’ll make a fine summer rental.

Heading into Oliver’s debut last night as fill-in host on The Daily Show, I was a tad anxious that John O. might turn out to be so bloody good that viewers would forget about Jon S., which would be a travesty of the highest order.

Fortunately, Oliver’s performance, while at times sharp and funny, portends no such catastrophe. That means I can relax and enjoy the Comedy Central show for the next three months as Stewart heads to the Middle East to direct his first film.

Oliver, a Daily Show correspondent since 2006, opened the show with his trademark self-flagellating British humor. “This looks weird, it feels weird, it even sounds weird,” he said, “and this is my actual voice.”

Stewart, he said, was “going to a small Italian village to learn how to cobble shoes.” Oliver, meanwhile, was such an unknown that he was “looking forward to explaining to [first guest Seth Rogen] who the fuck I am.”

Summer is usually a slow news time, but Oliver quickly acknowledged the comedy gift provided by the National Security Agency leaks in a new segment titled “Good News! You’re not Paranoid.”

Clearly, this was a target-rich environment, and it helped Oliver find his rhythm and confidence.

Commenting on a new government facility in Utah that would store “five zetabytes” of information on Americans’ phone and Internet use, Oliver deadpanned: “Zetabytes? … I think that’s how Michael Douglas got throat cancer.” (Douglas, who is married to Catherine Zeta-Jones, said he contracted the cancer from having oral sex. Get it?)

This was Oliver’s first killer line, and he played it exactly as Stewart would have, with a quick air jab and a lusty “boom!” I laughed out loud, waking up the dogs.

The government’s secret surveillance program, Prism, only focuses on a “small segment” of the population—those who use phones and the web, Oliver said. “I bet the Amish are feeling pretty damn smug right now, or they would be if they had any idea this story was happening.”

Daily Show correspondents Jason Jones, Samantha Bee, Jessica Williams, Al Madrigal and Aasif Mandvi took turns “reporting” on how they had each unfairly been passed over for the summer gig. Williams, who is black, said of hitting the glass ceiling: “I look up and all I see is white penises.”

Oliver’s weakest moments occurred during the interview. (The same is usually true for Stewart, unless the guest is a fellow comedian.) Visibly uncomfortable, Oliver didn’t have much to say except how funny Rogen’s new movie, The End was, and how much Oliver liked it. Awkward.

Moreover, it was a counterintuitive approach for Oliver, whose so-called interviews are heat-seeking missiles designed to embarrass and destroy non-celebrity subjects. A kinder, gentler Oliver will require a lot more practice. I liked the other guy, but that’s just me.

Funny thing—while I was worried that Oliver might be too good at this hosting thing, he was having nightmares about the opposite scenerio. As he told Rolling Stone last week: “I’m about to destroy the most beloved show on American television.”

Neither prophecy was fulfilled. Should make for a dandy summer.