Between the announcement that Jon Stewart was leaving as host of The Daily Show and now, there have been a hundred or more think pieces written on how anyone could ever possibly replace the former host. It’s a credit to Stewart’s legacy that he’s considered so indispensable, but if The Daily Show hopes to hold on to its crown as a go-to source for political satire, it’ll need to learn to continue without Stewart at its head.
Enter Trevor Noah, the fresh-faced, South African comedian who, after a handful of appearances across from Stewart, found himself sitting behind the desk a few months later. His fast rise to prominence wasn’t entirely smooth — having a few insensitive tweets from early in his career rear their ugly heads — but to his credit Noah handled the PR hiccup maturely, using the ugly tweets to illustrate how he’s grown as a comedian and performer. Now, as the host of cable’s number one comedy news show, Noah needs to prove he’s got what it takes to be the new mouthpiece of a generation.
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart as we knew it was not the first incarnation of The Daily Show. Initially, the show was hosted by Craig Kilborn and didn’t lean as heavily on politics and the 24-hour news cycle for its satirical targets. Still, when Stewart took over for Kilborn much of the show’s format stayed the same — it was simply a new host in the same chair.
Over the years Stewart transformed The Daily Show into the late night program he wanted to host, and that’s very likely what Noah hopes to do as well. But for now, The Daily Show with Trevor Noah is very much the same show as The Daily Show with Jon Stewart — it’s simply a new host in the same chair (a point the show’s marketing was very upfront about.)
The packaging may be new — there’s a new but still familiar-looking set, new opening credits where the Earth spins in the correct direction (your welcome, Neil deGrasse Tyson), and new typeface and graphics — but overall, the guts of The Daily Show (read: much of the writing staff) has remained the same.
Noah opened his first episode as the new Daily Show host by talking about how surreal of experience it was for him, immediately referencing his South African home and how he’s achieved two of his greatest dreams — “an indoor toilet and a job as host of The Daily Show.” But for those looking for the “global perspective” Noah is expected to bring to the series, that’ll have to wait for another episode. This premiere is primarily concerned with making its new host comfortable and sticking to the series’ tried-and-true formula.
But for as formulaic as this all sounds, The Daily Show with Trevor Noah still manages plenty of laughs and Noah’s delivery, while not as bombastic as Stewart’s, fits the material and the tone. The parts of the premiere that worked best were whenever Noah recognized how strange it must be for the audience, comparing the situation to a family with a new step-dad and hoping not to disappoint Stewart, promising to continue his War on Bullsh–t.
By far the episode’s best moment came from a segment with correspondent Jordan Klepper, where very quickly a bit about Jon Boehner resigning as Speaker of the House became a meta-conversation about Noah taking over for Stewart, with Klepper panicking about his job security, now that Noah was hosting — “The desk is different, there’s a new font! Nobody asked me!”
Noah touched on topics ranging from the Pope’s visit to America to NASA’s discovery of liquid water on Mars, and for his first guest, Noah spoke with Kevin Hart in what was an entertaining but not necessarily illuminating interview. To put it bluntly, there was nothing revolutionary about these segments and that’s as much due to the writing staff remaining mostly unchanged as The Daily Show‘s unwillingness to mess with what works. The move is not so unlike Stephen Colbert keeping his schtick mostly unchanged when he went to The Late Show — if it isn’t broken, why fix it?
As a host, Noah played it safe on his first night out, which really isn’t the worst plan. Had the show kicked off with something drastically different, longtime Daily Show fans may have jumped ship. However, as for the future of The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, hopefully Noah will be allowed to mold the program in his likeness, giving it his own unique flavor. Otherwise, why keep the series around if there’s no plan for it change with the times (or host).
The Daily Show with Trevor Noah airs weeknights at 11pm/12c on Comedy Central.