Jon Stewart acolyte Stephen Colbert began September by claiming the mantle of CBS’s The Late Show from David Letterman and now, it ends with the man himself replaced by another acolyte – 31 year-old South African stand-up Trevor Noah.
As a relative unknown to American audiences (and to show itself – he joined in 2014), Noah’s been a subject of intense scrutiny in the months preceding his hosting debut. He’s been featured in more newspapers and magazines than be counted in the run-up, all probing Noah with the implicit question: how will he do as The Daily Show host?
It’s the last in a series of seismic shift in late night talk shows these last few years, Noah inherits the brand that spawned spinoffs and launched comics like Colbert and John Oliver of HBO’s Last Week Tonight to superstardom. It’s a massive responsibility he deftly acknowledges in his self-aware monologue.
Upon finally seeing him in motion, the reason Noah is the right choice shines through. With earnestness befitting his youth, he wasted no time getting started and immediately his easygoing affability smooths over otherwise rough edges and makes for a delightful host. He makes the scripted lines land (for the most part) and transitions with a goofy smile and a eye twinkle. Much like Colbert, this premiere was smothered in first-night-jitters that make prognosticating Noah’s future a fool’s errand. However, “off-and-running” is sometimes the right positive phrase for a situation.
While he carries Stewart’s self-effacing attitude, he deals punchlines with sly as opposed to bemused smiles and droopy eyes that endear him in a boyish, aw-shucks kind of way. This was most evident in his interview with his first guest, comedian Kevin Hart, who made the experience the equivalent of T-ball for Noah, more than leading the way, first with the gift of ties for the first-time host.
In the show proper, Noah dealt with topics like Pope Francis’ U.S. visit, Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner’s resignation and NASA’s discovery of water on Mars (which introduced the first person in Noah’s “epidemic of blackness” with senior Mars correspondent Ron Woods, Jr.) with easygoing relish and there were some indications that we, the audience, will, like Noah, be learning basic U.S. civics while we both acclimate to this new age.
The funniest bit came at the first segment’s conclusion, during a bit with senior congressional correspondent Jordan Klepper who, with Jessica Williams, are the best ongoing correspondents from Stewart’s tenure. When talking about Boehner’s surprise announcement, it became a meta-joke on a different Jon someone was replacing and Klepper commented on the oft-repeated line in the media about Noah’s selection being about his “global” sensibility, a fancy way of stating the simple fact that Noah is a black immigrant (he moved to New York just this summer).
In contrast to Stewart’s role as an anger valve who could be pulled on the hypocrisy of politics Monday to Thursday, The Daily Show 2.0‘s goal with Noah appears to be about providing perspective four days a week in their ongoing “war on bullshit.” But Noah and the show go through great pains to make clear the only difference is instead of Jon Stewart, Noah is leading the charge.