When Michael Che (Very Briefly) Defected to The Daily Show

Fifteen years ago, Saturday Night Live‘s Michael Che was ping-ponging around Manhattan’s East Village, sprinting from one comedy cellar to the next and performing as many as five shows a night to get his stand-up career off the ground.

Che had also built his own T-shirt company, selling designs on the streets of SoHo and briefly flirting with a Tommy Hilfiger collaboration, before the lure of open mic nights and shoulder-brushing names like Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock became too strong to ignore.

In 2012, Che was invited to perform on Late Show with David Letterman. The following year, he was hired as a writer on SNL. In 2014, it was announced that Che would replace Cecily Strong as Colin Jost’s “Weekend Update” co-anchor.

Yet, even as Che celebrates a milestone 10th anniversary behind the “Weekend Update” desk, there’s one gig even diehard fans seem to forget about. Ironically enough, it’s probably the job that best prepared the comedian to play a fake, nighttime news anchor on a satirical sketch comedy show. 

We’re talking, of course, about Che’s blink-and-miss-it tenure on The Daily Show.

The year was 2014 and Che had just served a stint as a guest writer, then staff writer, on Lorne Michaels’ long-running sketch series. He’d penned some viral sketches, like “12 Days Not A Slave” and “White Christmas,” before making the leap to Jon Stewart’s Comedy Central mainstay.

At The Daily Show, Che served as a senior correspondent alongside Samantha Bee and then-newcomer Jordan Klepper—honing his sharp social commentary while getting more comfortable in front of the camera.

YouTube player

Che’s jump from behind-the-scenes mastermind to bit player felt seamless, in part because The Daily Show gave him the space to simply be himself. He wasn’t a character actor, and he was never going to craft memorable personas the way Kristen Wiig or Jason Sudeikis regularly did on SNL.

But Che had a nonchalance and ease when it came to addressing the camera—a laid-back appeal that made his cutting insights sting just a bit more. (A fact that’s fairly easy to see in the handful of episodes he popped up in during that short summer.)

YouTube player

From fake interviews with Dick Cheney to field pieces focused on brand-name politicians to his most successful segment, “Race/Off—Live from Somewhere,” which sees Che trying to find a safe space for Black people and coming up with some ridiculously bleak options—outer space being one—his time as a contributor was short but impactful.

Like, 58 business days brief.

Che joined the series in June of 2014 and left in September of that same year, effectively completing a summer internship and earning some much-needed comedy credits before returning to his roots at SNL to take over the “Weekend Update” desk.

Che’s The Daily Show exit came on the heels of the departure of a much more veteran correspondent, John Oliver, and the difference in time served made for one of the funniest farewells in the show’s history.

While some co-workers like Jessica Williams delivered a heartfelt “I heard good things” and Bee launched into contrived hysterics, Jason Jones confused Che with Wyatt Cenac. Stewart, meanwhile, serenaded him with a Sarah McLachlan ballad that didn’t even reach its famous chorus because Che just didn’t have enough clips. 

The comedian took it all in stride and graduated The Daily Show ranks with a more realized idea of who he wanted to be on camera.

Looking at his work now, from his ongoing joke-swapping gag with Jost to his sarcasm-infused political commentary to his willingness to get dunked on by guests like Caitlin Clark, it’s hard not to notice just how important those few months with Stewart at The Daily Show actually were. 

We’ll remember them—even if Che’s former Daily Show colleagues probably won’t. 

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *