And from that good, competitive work environment, the sky's the limit. Alums credit "Office" and "Little Miss Sunshine" star Steve Carell with proving that "The Daily Show" can churn out versatile actors, as adept at playing bumbling journalists as any other type of character.
"Inasmuch as it's fabulous exposure, there's also a little bit of a struggle to prove yourself as more than a snarky correspondent. I credit Carell for breaking that mold for all of us. He really changed the perception of what correspondents are capable of," said Helms, who plays underling Andy Bernard to Carell's Michael Scott on "The Office," and served as a "Daily Show" correspondent from 2002 to 2006.
Back to that "SNL" comparison. Unsurprisingly, "Daily Show" alums are hesitant to rank their show as more culturally significant than that storied sketch comedy show.
"I always wanted to be on 'SNL,' and at a certain point, somewhere in the late '90s, it became 'SNL' or 'The Daily Show,'" said Helms. "They're very different shows with very different comedic agendas; they're going for different things. That said, I think they're both great shows, they attract great talent, so you're going to see talented people get plucked from both shows."
"'SNL' still churns them out," Corddry added. "Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Jason Sudeikis, etc. Comparisons of the two shows make me very uncomfortable. 'The Daily Show' owes a huge debt to 'SNL,' which I have watched religiously my entire life, and it always pains me to hear those knee-jerk comparisons to the original cast. What was the question again?"
But considering "The Daily Show" can bring in as many as 2 million viewers a night, over the course of one week -- four episodes -- the Comedy Central staple could draw about as many viewers as watch "SNL" on a week when the show doesn't have a marquee special guest, like Palin or Fey.
That, and the fact that correspondents on "The Daily Show" play heightened versions of themselves (as opposed to characters, like Molly Shannon's Mary Catherine Gallagher or Tim Meadows' the Ladies Man) means that it can be easier for alums to catch on as stars once they fly the coop.
So, in the end, even if it doesn't usurp "SNL's" place in pop culture (that show does have history on its side), "The Daily Show" is proving itself a worthy competitor.
"'The Daily Show' showcases its talent in a way that allows them to catch on quickly as personalities," Bianculli said. "If you were to condense 'SNL's' history, compared to 'The Daily Show' under Jon Stewart, you'd probably have a pretty similar hit or miss ratio. But is there anyplace else right now where this amount of talent is coming from? Probably not. 'The Daily Show's' got fertile ground."