A little over halfway through the first segment of Trevor Noah’s debut as host of The Daily Show, correspondent Jordan Klepper was blurring the line between John Boehner’s departure from the United States Congress and Jon Stewart’s departure from The Daily Show anchor chair.
The desk is different, the font is different, he desperately observed.
But except for those elements and the guy at the desk, Noah’s Daily Show felt a lot like the show Stewart perfected.
And for the majority of the the audience, this was Stewart’s show. I never watched it when Craig Kilborn hosted, and I know few who did. I tuned in when friends started telling me I needed to see what Stewart was doing with The Daily Show as he turned it into an essential part of the national conversation, as well as a great way to end the day with a laugh.
On Monday night, Noah turned in one of the smoothest transition performances we have seen in the numerous late-night debuts in recent years. Even vaunted Daily Show veteran Stephen Colbert has had his awkward moments taking over CBS’ Late Show chair from David Letterman. And Larry Wilmore seemed a bit lost taking over Colbert’s 11:30 p.m. time slot on Comedy Central, until he hit his stride — and he has really hit a stride.
Noah, 31, slid right in, quickly addressing the elephant in the room: that he is not Stewart. The native South African said he never dreamed he would have an indoor toilet or the Daily Show gig, and he said he was comfortable with one of those. He joked that some of the audience might fret that Stewart was like a crazy uncle who left his inheritance to some kid from Africa. He then went on to dissect the news, using a familiar Daily Show trick of appearing to go into something heavy (Syria) before switching to a sunnier subject (the Pope in America). But he then transitioned into Boehner’s departure, delivering a number of zingers.
The next segment was a quickie about the discovery of flowing water on Mars, in which Noah joked that someday, flowing water will be found in fire-ravaged California. The inaugural interview of the Noah era was with Kevin Hart (at Rupp Arena, next week) who did most of the work in that segment.
The debut ended with another Daily Show staple, the “Moment of Zen.” You could argue Noah should have come up with his own “outro.” But the clip, Boehner’s predecessor Nancy Pelosi left speechless when asked whether she will miss her successor, was a winner.
And Noah was a winning host — smooth, affable, sharp — and he brought a younger perspective to the show, as in a segment about Pope emojis.
Over time, naturally and by necessity, Noah will make The Daily Show his own. As much as many of us love Stewart, the show has to move on, although Noah acknowledged that the most important element of the show to many fans when he promised to continue “The war on bulls—.”
As Daily Show host, Stewart became more than just a comedian hosting a late-night show. He became a trusted voice. And that is something you can’t do in one show. It requires time, consistency, and navigating some rough patches in our world, as Stewart did from 9/11 to the Charleston shootings.
But Noah is off to a good start.