Last night, Trevor Noah finally introduced himself to us as the host of The Daily Show. No more mystery or speculation, just a half-hour of comedy about the world around us. How did he do? Ultimately, how Noah did last night won’t say as much about his strengths and weaknesses as his performance over the next days, weeks, and months. But for now, here are a few thoughts about the premiere.
It still feels like The Daily Show.
Those nervous about a floor-to-ceiling remake of The Daily Show were immediately treated to the sound of those familiar trumpets, the show’s theme song, and a set that looked refreshed, but not unfamiliar. Sure, the font is different, but the “Moment of Zen” is unsurprisingly alive and well. One big change, though? The world is now spinning in the right direction.
Take what you will from that, and from the fact that the show’s promised divergence from the cable news teat was not evident on the first night as the topics — the Pope, John Boehner’s resignation, and water on Mars — were all broad stories that sprang from typical cable news media sources. If you assumed Noah was going to exclusively read tweets about the Catalonian independence movement while maintaining a 22-minute long selfie pose in an effort to be global and young and viral, you were probably a bit surprised to see a rather conventional episode of The Daily Show. But, while it still felt like The Daily Show…
Trevor Noah is no Jon Stewart (and that might not be a bad thing).
Jon Stewart is a legend, but it had been a long time since he had looked as though he was genuinely excited to be behind the desk at The Daily Show. And who could blame him after he stared unflinchingly at America’s socio-political soap opera for the last 16 years? Trevor Noah, on the other hand, seemed as though he was ecstatic to be doing the real news in a somewhat fake way. But while that energy was maybe too much at times during the premiere as he beamed and oversold a few jokes, he’ll doubtlessly settle into a style, and it likely won’t be nearly as dry as Stewart’s.
If the premiere is any indication, though, Trevor Noah will be quick with self-deprecating humor in the same way that Stewart always was. In his opening moments, as Noah introduced himself to the audience, he joked about his desire to not make it seem as though Stewart had “left his inheritance to some kid from Africa” while paying tribute to the man. Noah also joked about reports that Amy Schumer and others were offered the Daily Show job, and made good use of Jordan Klepper in a bit that played with the exit of John (Boehner) and Jon (Stewart) while mocking the coverage of Noah’s ascent and the continuous use of buzzwords like “global perspective,” which Klepper professed to not understand.
I’ll be honest and ancient-seeming: I don’t love the new Daily Show‘s flippant use of the word “sh*t” and other bleeped curse words, and it’s not for puritanical reasons. The Daily Show is at its best when there is, at least, the pretense that it resembles a news program. Moments when Jon Stewart would fly off the handle and let curse words fly, as when he scolded Jim Cramer and told him that the stock market wasn’t “a f*cking game” had more weight because we were seeing America’s most trusted newsman lose his composure and his mind. That weight would not have existed had he used “sh*t” and other such words casually in conversation in every episode.
After just one episode, though, we don’t yet know if that’s the kind of host that Trevor Noah wants to be or how the job and world events will change him. If you say that you watched Jon Stewart’s debut and imagined that, 16 years later, he’d be an American folk hero who some wish would run for public office, I would call you a liar. 9/11, the war in Iraq, the financial crisis, the rise of Fox News and the Tea Party — these things all shaped Jon Stewart, and Noah will undoubtedly face hard nights and transformative moments, as well, because that’s how the world and the show works. Until then, please enjoy the sight of a man trying to plant his feet before the waves of The Daily Show‘s beat toss him around a little.
A little more edge.
Jon Stewart wasn’t always a measured intellectual; sometimes his Daily Show went for the big laughs, and that’s exactly what Noah did last night, drawing a loud “Ha!” out of me for his unexpected Pope cock joke and a slight groan when he told his AIDS/aides joke, and impersonated crack before tossing out a Whitney Houston death joke. Eventually, Noah will learn to read his audience better and find a happy medium, but at least in the process, we might get to see more interesting misses.
Remembering the ensemble.
Klepper was solid, and Noah was a more than able straight-man for him, and new correspondent Roy Wood, Jr. had a fantastic debut as a skeptic about the possibility of migrating on Mars due to apparently innate Martian racism. But while the two correspondent segments were highlights, the hope is to see Klepper, Wood, Jessica Williams, and the other correspondents get out into the field as soon as possible to take some pressure and spotlight off of Noah, and allow the show to feel more like an ensemble than it has in years.
Noah does not appear to be a born interviewer, appearing stiff and over-reverent in the midst of his chat with comedian Kevin Hart about his striped pants, his movie career, and his stand-up tour. Hart was an easy choice for Noah’s first guest due to his popularity, but maybe not the best choice in terms of being a showcase for Noah. This is another area where the young host will surely improve over time.
Jon Stewart had 2,579 episodes to establish and then continually solidify our trust in him. Trevor Noah has had one, but, at this point, it’s more about demonstrating why Jon Stewart trusted him with this task, because Stewart’s faith is the currency that is going to allow us all to give Trevor Noah a chance to find his way and make The Daily Show his own. And on the first night, Noah made strides toward justifying Stewart and Comedy Central’s gamble while making it clear that the war on bullsh*t is in good hands, and that’s all one can ask for and all anyone should have expected.
And now, your Moment of Zen.
Did Noah’s eloquent and funny words about being our political stepdad now that Jon Stewart, our political dad, had left sound familiar? That’s because it was a remix of the words Jon Stewart uttered when he took over for Craig Kilborn in 1999. It was a classy move as the torch passed once again.