So, How Did Trevor Noah Do On His First Night At ‘The Daily Show’?

by JESSICA GOLDSTEIN –

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Trevor Noah knows it’s strange for us to see him behind The Daily Show desk. During his debut on Monday night, he spent his opening monologue — a solidly written and gamely performed introduction — assuring us that this experience is even more surreal for him.

“Growing up on the dusty streets of South Africa, I never dreamed that I would have, well, two things, really: An indoor toilet, and a job as the host of The Daily Show. And now, I have both. And I’m quite comfortable with one of them.”

In a deft, charming start, Noah addressed the behind-the-scenes issues that had been oft-discussed since the announcement not only that Jon Stewart, “our political dad,” was stepping down, but that it would be Noah — not a woman, not an American — replacing him. He acknowledged what is probably an awkward fact for him: That in order for Noah to ascend to Stewart’s old seat, a lot of people had to say no first.

Noah framed his relationship to the existing Daily Show audience as being “a new stepdad” for the family. The “weird” thing about this new stepdad? “He’s black. Which is not ideal.”

But I think the better description is one Noah gave New York Magazine last week: His debut was his “first date with America.” And like any first date, he was all dressed up, visibly a little nervous in a way that was very endearing, funny but rehearsed. And, to take this analogy as far as it can go, even though it is not at all fair to decide how you feel about a person based on the first half-hour you spend together, we are going to do just that! Join us in this irrational, probably-too-soon evaluation of your new political stepdad-slash-boyfriend. (Oof, that sounds like a Lifetime movie. Better to just pick your lane and stick with it.)

For those of you who haven’t been kept up with the who’s-who of who said no to The Daily Show, because, I don’t know, you were busy spending time with your families or doing your job or engaging in some other unimportant pursuit, know that Comedy Central did offer Stewart’s old slot to a number of women, including Amy Schumer and Poehler.

The former was unwilling to shackle herself into the same gig for five years (though she didn’t say this explicitly, clearly she can do more for herself with an outstanding show of her own invention and, as of this summer, a movie with her name above the marquee, than she can as someone else’s replacement); the latter was so not interested in the job she reportedly delivered Comedy Central “the quickest no in history.” Chris Rock would’ve taken the spot, but only through next year’s election, the professional equivalent of “I’ll go out with you senior year if we can break up right after graduation.”

And so, as Noah put it, “once more, a job Americans rejected is now being done by an immigrant.”

After promising to “continue the war on bullshit,” Noah knocked out a great segment on the Pope — “Pope-mojis: For when you want to inject just the right amount of confusion into your late-night sexting” — and then, with correspondent Jordan Klepper, a self-referential riff on John Boehner stepping down as Speaker of the House. “I can already hear people saying, ‘John, please come back!’” Noah said.

Klepper offered that the new guy, whoever he would be, could “bring a new global perspective to things,” before enacting an on-camera meltdown: “I hear global! And viral! And youth! Everything is new, the desk is different, there’s a new font, I mean, nobody asked me!” Don’t be too panicked, Klepper! Some of those changes are good. At least the new opening credits show Earth rotating in the right direction.

The next segment featured correspondent Roy Wood, Jr. deflating Noah’s hopes about getting to visit Mars. “Black people ain’t going to Mars,” Wood informed him, except for “Beyoncé, Oprah, and Michael Strahan,” because “white people like everything Kelly Ripa likes.” He imagined a Mars in which Martians are “yelling the n-word at me. How’d they even learn that?”

Kevin Hart might not have been the best choice for the first interview, unless Noah was just worried about having to carry the conversation himself. Hart, who forever has his energy levels cranked up to eleven, provided more of a monologue than a conversation, even stopping to bask in the glow of how “well-spoken” one of his paragraphs turned out. But with limited exception, the interviews were never the highlight of Stewart’s Daily Show, either.

Just like Stewart had room to send up Judaism and his native land of New Jersey, Noah has the space to make jokes about race and South Africa that a white, American host couldn’t touch. And it’s neat to think that, while the traditional desks of late night are still helmed entirely by white men— on CBS as it is on NBC, in 1962 as it is in 2015 — Comedy Central has black men hosting both The Daily Show and The Nightly Show.

The network is still minting unlikely stars (read: women, people of color) the alphabet soup of broadcast isn’t gutsy enough to touch, game-changers like Schumer, Key and Peele‘s Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, Broad City creators Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer, not to mention recurring player Hannibal Buress, who landed a show of his very own earlier this summer.

And it seems only fair after such a charming debut to stick around and see what Noah can do once he shakes those first date jitters. Hey, if things get serious, he might even send us a late night Pope-moji. Nothing like a 3:00 a.m. “Sup girl? You up? Eggplant, winky-face, cartoon Pope likes cheesesteaks” to keep the romance alive.

 

Reprinted with permission from Think Progress, a branch of The Center for American Progress