TV Review: Daily Show's new host Trevor Noah looks like a worthy successor to Jon Stewart
HAND-PICKED successors don’t always work out too well, especially when the successor is stepping into a pair of gigantic, bespoke shoes that have confidently trampled the competition into the dust for years. Just ask David Moyes. Or maybe don’t ask him.
Monday night worked out well, more or less, for Trevor Noah, the 31-year-old South African comedian Jon Stewart anointed to take his place as host of The Daily Show. Not spectacularly well; just well enough to suggest Stewart and Comedy Central have made a canny choice that could pay rich dividends. But it’s certainly going to take weeks, and quite possibly months, before Noah imprints his own identity and style on the show.
If any butterflies had invaded Noah’s stomach before his debut appearance, which we got to see over here last night, they were well-hidden behind his confident manner, big smile and sharp tailored suit.
There were some great gags and some terrible ones (having to explain the punchline to one about the Pope traveling in a small car was not good), as well as a few that flirted with delicious bad taste. Noah envisaged crystal meth and crack having an argument — “Sure, you made some teeth fall out, but I took down Whitney Houston!” That drew an “Ooff!” from the audience.
Growing up in South Africa, said Noah, his two big dreams were to host The Daily Show and have an indoor toilet. “Now I have both, and I’m quite comfortable with one of them,” he cracked.
He paid a heartfelt tribute to Stewart: “He was often our voice, our refuge and in many ways, our political dad.”
There was a gag ahoy, however. “But Dad left, and now it feels like the family has a new stepdad. And he’s black. Which is not ideal.”
Noah repeatedly mined his colour, just as Stewart sometimes used to mine his Jewishness, for laughs. Remarking how ironic it was that a biracial South African ended up hosting a US TV show, he quipped: “Once again, a job that Americans rejected is being done by an immigrant.”
Race provided more great material in his banter with another TDS first-timer, “Senior Mars Correspondent” Roy Wood, Jr. Noah asked what he thought about the discovery of water on the red planet. “I don’t give a shit!” growled Wood. Noah wondered if he fancied going to Mars someday.
“Brother can’t get a cab! You think we gonna get a spaceship? Black people ain’t going to Mars!” (Possible exception, Oprah Winfrey).
Noah’s chat with correspondent Jordan Klepper, who joined the show in Jon Stewart’s final year, about who could possibly replace Republican House speaker John Boehner when he resigns quickly turned into an anguished howl by Klopper about how nobody could ever replace Stewart
“I just bought a condo!” Klopper wailed, before hyperventilating into a paper bag. It was funny and self-referential, and a clever way of heading the critics off at the pass.
The weakest spot of the whole show was Noah’s overly gushy interview with full-of-himself comedian Kevin Hart, who was so busy being sincere, he forgot to crack a few jokes. Then again, it’s worth remembering that Stewart also faltered with the obligatory friendly celebrity encounters sometimes.
Rather than being the new stepdad, Noah was more like the son who’d been handed the keys of dad’s car for his driving test. There were no sharp turns, no crashes; he kept the wheel steady and stayed inside the lines.
He deserves his licence. It will be interesting to see where he steers the show from here.