Daily Show’s Michael Kosta Comes to Houston

Michael Kosta agrees: to be among The Daily Show's lengthy correspondent roster is like being apart of a proud fraternity
Michael Kosta agrees: to be among The Daily Show's lengthy correspondent roster is like being apart of a proud fraternity Photo by Mandee Johnson

No doubt, this will be an interesting week to see comedian Michael Kosta, who will be playing a few nights at Rudyard’s with The Riot Comedy Club.

It was only days ago when Kosta, a Daily Show correspondent since 2017, was witness to the surprise departure of host Trevor Noah after seven successful and Emmy-nominated years as the face of Comedy Central’s late night sphere.

“It’s been nuts,” Kosta says as an understatement with his typical straight-arrow delivery. “I forget the historian who said, ‘Sometimes one year has decades in them and some decades only have a year in them.’ But because The Daily Show is something that happens every day, there are weeks that go by and you kind of forget about the shows, you forget about the headlines. And there is a day like Thursday where I feel like years happened.”

Kosta continues, offering a peek behind the scenes of the farewell show taped on December 9. “They gave us a yearbook at the end with seven years of pictures with Trevor Noah. It had pictures of Trevor’s first day in the office, it had the day I was first hired and I remember the people that were there, some of who have gone on to different shows. It’s so silly, show business. It’s so gratuitous. But we also celebrate like we’re in fifth grade, and this is like graduating elementary school. It was really heart warming and emotional. I think everyone is ready for the next chapter of The Daily Show, but we needed to and wanted to celebrate Trevor who has been excellent person to work with, who has been very funny and brought a different perspective to late night. So, it was... I am saying a lot of things.  I text Trevor the next day and say, that was so god damn fun and so god damn exhausting... you could take out the god damn, if you want.”

"Fun and exhausting’" might make for a decent memoir title if Kosta ever gets to write his life in comedy, as he is skilled in articulating his origin story for jumping into the world of telling jokes. “I am the youngest of four kids and I would probably say through lots of therapy and self reflection, I am still trying to get my parents to pay attention to me,” he deadpans. “With comedy, the minute you are standing up there and see people staring at you, it’s kind of nice. My whole life I was competing for time to talk. A very loving family, the way we communicated and we still communicate is you find someone’s weakness and make jokes about it. So that’s definitely where humor and the urge to make other’s laugh came from.”

Unlike toiling in the Daily Show correspondents' stable, which Kosta describes as “collaborative by nature,” he admits he relishes stand-up still in part because it’s an “individual sport.” He adds: “There is something very empowering about being the only person in whole room who is allowed to talk, usually – sometimes bachelorette parties have a few words. It’s a bit arrogant in the sense that you think they need to listen to you, but I see it more as, “Hey, we are giving this person the chance to make us laugh.’ That’s a really fun challenge to tackle by yourself.”

Stand-up may have been his first bite at performing for laughs, but Kosta has been keeping track of what made people laugh since much earlier. “I always wrote down funny things. I pulled up an old second grade notebook and I noticed in the margins, I have things that were said during class that were funny, either by me or someone else. I was like, wow, what a window into what I was focused on. The main part of the notebook was what the teacher was teaching that day. Now, [my] notebook is just what I believe is funny. Which does lead to some funny encounters as I have lost my notebook many times and strangers are always so kind to return it to me but of course, they always flip through the pages and kind of look at me a little bit strange.

Kosta adds about the nature of the comedian’s notebook, which is never far from hand in the constant quest to think up new material. “[The notebook] is where you do don’t judge or censor, you just put it down on paper and find out later if it is funny. Thankfully, it has not crossed into the wrong hands. I am looking forward to the discussion when a comic gets quote unquoted cancelled for what they privately wrote in the notebook.”

Despite his growing success on TV, Kosta treasure his time on the road even now. “Stand up was definitely one of those things that was there in the beginning and will be there in the end.”

“It is a weird recipe. There is an arrogance there that you think they should be listening to you, but anyone who has a conversation with a stand up comic knows that often, there is some space in their personality they are trying to fill through this. This is not sense of confidence, but of insecurity. I joke onstage that because I am elevated six inches and my voice is amplified, it gives me this long leash of things to say and play with."

"If we were sitting at a café, I could not say what I am about to say about guns, race, Russia, white men, politics as freely and openly as I am about to onstage. And thank God for that! We need to cross this line to know where the line is. We need to say these things. Part of my evaluation of myself and where my life is going is where my brain goes when I’m onstage. There’s a lot of jokes about loving my child, but also hating her. Isn’t it interesting that that’s what my brain goes to right now... but it’s not all kid jokes! It’s easy to get soft, but I don’t dwell on the family stuff too much.”

But fair warning – don’t expect Kosta to simply do his Daily Show shtick verbatim. In fact, Michael Kosta questions if the character of Michael Kosta even thinks similar to the real Michael Kosta. “Sometimes my Daily Show character leans more, I don’t want to say Right, but I would say more Aloof Center,” he deduces. “I would say Michael Kosta onstage is less aloof. But it’s my point of view. I think anybody who has any comedy savvy experience; you know it’s never the exact same person as you see on TV. I do get people who are die hard Daily Show fans who come up and say, ‘Hey, you didn’t talk about Trump that much.’ Or, why didn’t you talk about the global recession. And I say there are other funny things to talk about that aren’t politics."

"But in general what Michael Kosta finds funny on TV is what Michael Kosta finds funny off TV. That’s a testament to whether you’ve seen me do stand-up on television or you’ve seen me on The Daily Show, is I’m always writing a lot of what I am saying. So I am finding what I think is funny. But I can advise people, I don’t rant about the electoral college for an hour in my stand-up. Which is something The Daily Show might do every once in a while.”

When The Daily Show returns in January, it will be with a series of outside guest hosts including Leslie Jones, former Senator Al Franken and former correspondent Hasan Minhaj.

Additionally, the current stable of correspondents may also get to take the desk for a ride. But Kosta is quick to point out that even with Noah out of the picture, the institution of the Daily Show will continue on evolving. “Ultimately, and I’ve said this publicly before, but there are lot of people who think The Daily Show is over now. But The Daily Show is entering its fourth host. They haven’t decided what is happening yet, but The Daily Show is a comedic beast. It’s one of the best satirical comedy shows in the world and it does continue, I just think as we all know especially with COVID, that transitions can be uncertain and difficult. So that’s kind of where we are at.”

In many ways, working on the New York comedy series was a dream come true for the young satirist. “I used to lay on the ground as a kid and watch the Daily Show when I was 12-13 years old,” Kosta now recalls. “Every time I open the door and walk into the studio, I take a deep breath because I can’t believe I’m here doing this.  It’s always fun, always keeps you on your toes, I’m always doing something you didn’t expect to do and I didn’t want to do, but ends up being rewarding. And I don’t what I’m about to do today but I know it’s gonna attempt to be funny and attempt to be poignant. It has changed my life incredibly and I’m grateful for it.”

Still fresh in his memory, Kosta reflects on saying good-bye to Noah, who helped him land his spot in the cast – even if the good-bye was quick. “It was more than what you saw on the show, but I compare it to a wedding line, when the husband and wife standing there. It was like a wedding line and Trevor was the only one in it. It was kind of expected. We got an email from security saying, you can’t bring your kids today. Don’t bring your spouse. We only have so much space in the building. But the more formal one-on-one good-byes with Trevor, that happened previously and he is always available for you. Whenever I text Trevor, and I don’t annoy him very often because he is so busy but when I do, he always says to come up and talk.”

Kosta doesn’t know whether the quick departure time had an impact on how he said good-bye to the host, but admits he understands why Noah decides to break his news on air without telling the staff first. “I can tell you from a logistical standpoint, the show probably would have preferred more heads up from Trevor. But I also think that Trevor did it the way he felt he had to. He’s got some best friends in that building and if he tells one of them, people talk and it might get out. There’s agents and money.

"For me... after the shock wore off, I think everyone was pretty happy that if someone wants to move on, it takes courage to move on and it needs to be done. At the end of the day, The Daily Show is best with a fully engaged and fully devoted host. It was clear Trevor was ready to move on so I am glad he did that. I’ll tell you the day that he left? That was nuts. Lots of text messaging, press reaching out. You don’t what you are supposed to say, you don’t know what the hell is going on.”

In the end, Kosta seems confident the basic cable landmark will come through this period no worse for ware. He compares Noah’s exit with a high school metaphor. “It’s like the senior football star homecoming king graduated, and you didn’t know it was coming and so it took some shock... but there are some 100 people in that building. Some of the editors edited the pilot to The Daily Show with Craig Kilborn. It is a machine, a well oiled machine, and we will progress to a new step. Trevor will be the first person to tell you that the wheel keeps spinning.”

Performances are scheduled for 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. on Friday, December 16 and Saturday, December 17 at The Riot Comedy Club at Rudyard's, 2010 Waugh. For more information, call 713-264-8664 or visit $20-150.

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Vic covers the comedy scene, in Houston and beyond. When not writing articles, he's working on his scripts, editing a podcast, doing some funny make-em-ups or preaching the good word of supporting education in the arts.
Contact: Vic Shuttee