When news of Jon Stewart’s planned retirement from the Daily Show first broke this February, faithful fans were shocked that the king of news satire was finally stepping down from his throne. Many doubted that any future host could reach the same level of sardonic and comedic prowess that Stewart attained over his 16-year run. It seemed inevitable that the next Daily Show host would be chosen from its list of formidable correspondents, after all, John Oliver ran the show in the summer of 2013 and was very well received. Well enough, in fact, that Oliver became the host of a similar program, Last Week Tonight on HBO, which has been extremely successful.
But the new host did not come from the ranks of Daily Show correspondents. Instead, relatively unknown stand-up comedian Trevor Noah was chosen for the key role. Not only an outsider to late night television, Noah is also of foreign origin— born in Johannesburg to a mixed race family— and was based in South Africa until recently. This surprised many who watched the US-focused Daily Show to hear scathing stories about the oddities of American news, politics, and society. He’s an unusual choice and a daring candidate for Comedy Central’s flagship show. So how has the gamble paid off?
Yes and no. The new Daily Show has received mixed reviews since Noah took the reins this September. While many critics praise Noah’s energetic and outside approach taking on American politics and society, others consider him a fresh face with little substance. But it is important to remember that when Jon Stewart took over the original Daily Show from Craig Kilborn, audiences and critics alike were not fond of his performances. Their main concern was that Stewart didn’t set himself enough apart from his predecessor to make the show interesting. It took Stewart over a season to form a persona that would ultimately grow to be one of the most loved of late night comedy.
Bearing this in mind, critics shouldn’t be so hard on Trevor Noah. Since the Daily Show retained most of its writers, correspondents, and general staff, the show still exudes a “Stewartian” feeling. It will take some time for Noah to create a new, unique identity that sets him apart from Stewart and allows him more creative liberties.
Even by imitating Stewart’s style, Noah brings charm, charisma, and wit that sets him apart from his predecessor. This may be an unpopular opinion among longtime viewers, but Stewart’s shtick was becoming cliché— the same news clip and reaction, monologue and moral, and incessant New Jersey accent that permeated every show. Noah, on the other hand, takes a diverse approach from this dedicated format. I’ve heard him speak in hilarious accents ranging from German to African to Southern American. News segments are still presented in a similar vein, but Noah’s responses are more varied than Stewart’s constant fake shock and irony. There is no doubt that the Daily Show under Noah’s direction is closely related to its predecessor, but of the elements that have been altered, most have changed for the better.
However, as a show that covers events domestic and international, uplifting and depressing, there are times when the host most respond to terrible situations with compassion and tact. For Stewart, this event was 9/11. He endeared himself to the American people by discussing the New York attacks with sensitivity and explaining that love and humor would triumph over terrorism. After the recent attacks in Paris, Noah had to make a similar announcement. It didn’t recapture the same raw emotion as Stewart’s speech, but it was well composed and delivered, and also focused on the demonstration of humanity of those affected, not the terrible acts of the perpetrators.
Though the first few weeks of the show were heavily formatted on the structure of the old Daily Show, it is clear that Noah is committed to developing a unique style that mixes traditional Daily Show gags with new character and perspective. From what we’ve seen so far, Noah seems like an able commander for Comedy Central’s “War on Bullsh*t.”
Photo credit to Elvert Barnes. No changes made.