Late-night political comedy is actually better than ever

Still, Oliver is in a class of his own. What he’s doing at HBO is something Stewart never had the time or budget to attempt, and his improbably entertaining 20-minute segments on net neutrality, scientific studies, campaign finance, fantasy sports sites, and yes, Donald Trump are informative and, in some cases, influence the public debate. Oliver isn’t doing what Jon Stewart did — he’s doing what John Oliver does, and in many cases, it’s better than what Stewart did. He’s like 60 Minutes for the younger set, or for anyone who likes to laugh and learn, mixing comedy and advocacy journalism.

And that’s the crux of why late-night comedy news is in good shape in the post-Jon Stewart world. Instead of one man (and his team) doing a half-hour show four nights a week, there’s usually at least one comedian sitting behind a desk, riffing on the news, every night of the week — and always online. Sometimes they cover the same news, but because there are so many of them, Bee can also touch on Native American tribal sovereignty at the Supreme Court, or Meyers can spend a few minutes looking at Colorado’s plan to enact single-payer health care.

Comedians can illuminate parts of a news story that “real news” anchors can’t. And like medicine, hard news can sometimes go down easier with a spoonful of sugar, which is just fine — do politics, commerce, and social issues always have to be dreary to learn about? Satire is no substitute for straight news, like commentary isn’t a stand-in for journalism, or frosting is no replacement for cake.