Trevor Noah Daily Show Debut
Published: September 29, 2015
Trevor Noah Daily Show Debut, If you blinked, you might have missed the break between The Daily Show With Jon Stewart and The Daily Show With Trevor Noah.
Jon Stewart left his job of 16 years in early August, giving Trevor Noah, the correspondents, and the producers just a month and a half to get the newest iteration of the show together. Sure, they’ve had a little time to think about how to handle the baton pass, but when you consider all the writing, casting, rehearsing, interviewing, and recalibrating that The Daily Show staff had to do, it’s still an extraordinarily short break. Even Stephen Colbert took nearly a full year between signing off from The Colbert Report and walking onstage at the Ed Sullivan Theater for The Late Show.
To be fair, Noah was never expected to raze The Daily Show and rebuild from the ground up. But as he told Vox during a recent set visit, he still wanted to make something new and worthwhile that could honor the spirit of Stewart’s tenure, while still putting his own stamp on it. Even if he changed nothing at all about the format, Noah and company knew Daily Show fans and detractors alike would be scrutinizing their content, tone, and punchlines within an inch of their lives.
In other words: no pressure.
But as the show opened, Noah was sitting at a new desk, looking out at the audience with a twinkling grin. “Welcome to The Daily Show,” he said. “I’m Trevor Noah.”
One show is hardly enough to say what The Daily Show With Trevor Noah is going to look like going forward. There will undoubtedly be adjustments as Noah gets more comfortable in the host’s chair. New correspondents will bring fresh energy. Noah’s writers’ room will reveal its strengths depending on the topic at hand.
But a first show can also reveal plenty about a new series’ priorities, and what it hopes to accomplish. For now, here are five major takeaways from the first Daily Show With Trevor Noah.
In the seven months since Stewart announced he was leaving, there have been roughly several thousand news cycles. Anticipation for the new host ran at a fever pitch, and once he was announced, a flurry of responses focused on Noah’s Twitter history, why he was or wasn’t right for the show, his outsider perspective as a South African reporting on American politics, and the various diversity issues at play in the late-night television landscape and beyond.
Noah addressed some of this in his monologue, especially the fact that most American audiences had no idea who he was before Stewart announced he’d be the successor. He acknowledged the discontent that a woman didn’t get the job – a fact that became all too clear in Vanity Fair’s stark image of the all-male late-night landscape – while also pointing out that Amy Schumer reportedly turned down The Daily Show. He was self-deprecating, framing Comedy Central’s failure to grab one of the women it actually wanted as one of the reasons he lucked out: “They had better things to do, and knew something I didn’t.”
Later, correspondent Jordan Klepper tapped in for a segment that was ostensibly about John Boehner resigning before it quickly pivoted into coded language about how “the new guy” could really surprise everyone and “nail it.” Besides, Boehner’s replacement could have a more “global perspective,” which would be kind of neat, right? When Noah asked what that actually means, Klepper sputtered. “I don’t know, I keep hearing the word ‘global.'”
Stewart leaned heavily on self-deprecation throughout his tenure, and that quality is now baked into the intrinsic DNA of The Daily Show. Noah is still playing dumb with the correspondents, even as he acted the voice of reason not three minutes before in the opening monologue.
But his self-deprecation is of a different ilk than Stewart’s, who always joked as if he couldn’t believe anyone would bother listening to him. Noah knows people are listening, and while he hopes he can rise to the challenge of saying something interesting enough to warrant the attention, he’s ultimately just psyched that he has the chance. Stewart had fun on the show, but running through the world’s inadequacies every day also brought out the angriest parts of him. Noah, by contrast, is far less furious than he is bemused – at least so far.
2) The show’s structure hasn’t changed, but its voices have
Noah’s been teasing a refocused Daily Show that might not lean on the exhaustive 24-hour news cycle for laughs. It was unclear whether he and the staff would also try out some kind of revised format to match the shift in content, but so far, not so much.
Noah opened with a monologue at the desk, pivoted to a segment that relied on over-the-shoulder graphics and video clips of the Pope, threw to a couple of correspondents, and then welcomed an interview. He even ended on a cable news Moment of Zen, in which Nancy Pelosi hemmed and hawed her way through a non-answer to, “Will you miss John Boehner?”
This is The Daily Show as its fans have come to know and love it. Still, the show’s structure isn’t so rigid that it can’t bend to accommodate new voices. Noah’s monologue was earnest, acknowledging that this felt “surreal,” and that some viewers might not be ready to welcome a new guy. “It feels like the family has a new stepdad, and he’s black,” he said, “which is not ideal.”
It was a canny way to acknowledge his position as both a new face and one that will inevitably speak from a very different perspective than Jon Stewart did, as a middle-aged white man.
This held up through a segment on NASA finding water on Mars, as new correspondent Roy Wood Jr. hilariously deadpanned his ambivalence over the discovery. “I can tell you I don’t give a shit,” Wood shrugged, and when Noah pressed further, Wood was candid. “Black people aren’t going to Mars,” he said, and further dismantled any argument Noah might have made by countering that being on TV wouldn’t help. “You’ve only had The Daily Show for one commercial break,” he said, incredulous. “These white folks ain’t decided if they like you yet!”
Even aside from Wood’s unflappable delivery, the line is a brilliant and very specific one. It not only reaffirms that Noah will be coming from a different perspective, but that it might be uncomfortable at times for Stewart’s preexisting audience. It wasn’t an apology, or a rebuke – just a reminder that Noah’s got his work cut out for him.
3) Noah might be an inexperienced host, but he’s not a beginner
There were certainly times when Noah stumbled. Some punchlines in the monologue fell flat, like his riff on how saying John Boehner isn’t conservative is like “crack telling meth it’s not addictive enough.” When the bit ended on crack bragging that it took down Whitney Houston, Noah visibly reacted to the chill from the previously game audience.
But in a matter of seconds, thanks to a wide smile, Noah was past it and on to the next joke. His standup background has trained him to recover quickly when he falters, and to have another five jokes ready for every one that fails. His delivery feels looser and more conversational than Stewart’s gobsmacked exasperation or John Oliver’s sputtering indignation.
Noah isn’t a novice. As he mentioned on the show, he has performed standup to a sold-out stadium of 53,000 people. The only American comedian who could understand that is … well, Kevin Hart.
4_ Comedians aren’t guaranteed to be great interviews – or even good ones
Kevin Hart and Trevor Noah.
It makes sense on paper that The Daily Show With Trevor Noah thought Kevin Hart would make for a good first guest. After all, Hart is one of the biggest comedians and movie stars in the country, with an enormous social media following to match.
In reality, though, Hart demonstrated exactly why inviting comedians onto a talk show is such a gamble. Celebrity guests might know which charming stories about their kids they’re going to tell, but comedians will take the energy of a crowd and run with it. And if they’re Kevin Hart, they’ll barely give anyone else on stage enough room to breathe.
When Hart gave Noah a congratulatory box of ties, it almost felt like a test. Noah took the box, smiled a thin smile, and tucked it away underneath the desk. “I was expecting a bigger reaction, but okay,” Hart shrugged, and from there on out, Noah barely got a word in edgewise. He didn’t even interject when Hart decided to test out his bit on being a “mitch,” or “man bitch,” which is some frankly uninspired wordplay.
Booking for future guests will matter. Noah is testing out the waters this week with a former Tinder CEO, Gov. Chris Christie, and professional Taylor Swift enthusiast Ryan Adams. Like Stewart before him, though, interviewing just isn’t Noah’s strongest suit. Then again, Stewart had 16 years to work on it, and Noah’s just made it through day one.
5) There is no comedy show on this planet that can resist the allure of dick jokes
Noah is VERY EXCITED about the Pope! Popemania! Etc.!
In the span of an impressive few minutes, Noah managed to pivot from Syria (“now for something light”) to the Pope’s East Coast tour to the “Popemoji” keyboard created in his honor. Within seconds, the cartoony graphic of the Pope eating a Philly cheesesteak was making an appearance in a bit about the dangers of emoji sexting.
So no, Trevor Noah is not Jon Stewart, nor is he trying to be. Noah’s tenure will be different from Stewart’s by virtue of the two men being very different kinds of comics. But he is still sitting in that chair, behind that desk, honoring The Daily Show’s pun graphics (and graphic puns).
The Daily Show With Trevor Noah is still a late-night show, standing in front of an audience, asking it to laugh at its dick jokes.
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