The 2014-2015 television season was a pretty crazy period for Comedy Central. After having Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert anchor the late night block together for nearly a decade, the two both decided to move on. Colbert is now making waves on The Late Show, and Stewart is in his new role as A Dad on Retired. Both left a massive void in Comedy Central’s schedule. We’ve fortunately seen Colbert’s replacement, Larry Wilmore, find success with The Nightly Show. Clearly the network has an eye for talent (they did also give Jordan Peele, Keegan-Michael Key, and Amy Schumer their own shows, while also upping Jon Oliver’s credibility). As far as anyone is concerned, the 11:30 PM slot is locked down pretty tight.
Enter in Trevor Noah, the man Comedy Central wants to fill the admittedly much bigger 11:00 PM period. The network could have gone with a name that many people recognize, perhaps someone from its long line of correspondents, and coasted into this new era on host identity alone. Instead they went with someone mostly unknown in North America, leading to promotion promising a “brand new host” for the “brand same show.” Sure, they could have used this with anyone else, but it’s fairly clear that they’re trying to convince wary viewers that the show they’ve loved didn’t leave with Stewart.
So for those people, it was probably refreshing to watch the premiere follow the same exact formula that made The Daily Show a success. Noah opened the night with a monologue filled with jokes about Stewart leaving, the fact that an immigrant now has a show Americans turned down, and pledging to continue the War on Bullshit. It was exactly what you’d expect from The Daily Show. Unsurprisingly, Noah moved through the bits pretty effortlessly, hitting the beats necessary to get the best comedic response. He also won a ton of points by thanking Stewart for getting him this job and it’s clear he wants nothing more than to keep this successful show’s history going.
Correspondent segments are back, of course. The premiere balanced both old and new by featuring people from two eras. Jordan Klepper, who officially joined in 2014, briefly went into a segment about John Boehner leaving before having a total meltdown about the host change. Having a moment like that was a given. One commercial break later and we’re introduced to Roy Wood Jr., a brand new addition who laments about how he doesn’t want to be the first black man on Mars. Wood’s segment was good and sufficiently showed the type of banter we can have now that he shares an ethnicity with the host (Klepper was actually the only white presence). However, it definitely generated less laughs than the other bits, likely due to Wood being totally new. He still needs to find his voice.
The same can be said about Noah. He got through the show without error, and his first major interview with Kevin Hart went very well. Noah has a similar conversational style as Stewart that makes the guest feel right at home when it’s their time to shine. Yet as the show was trudging along, I couldn’t help but feel like Noah was rushing. He spoke very quickly and gave off the vibe that he wanted to get to the next joke as fast as possible. Perhaps with only 30 minutes to introduce himself and get the show off on the right foot, Noah didn’t have enough time to really give it the compact and confident feel it needs. Confidence is what turned Stewart into this voice of reason for many, and hopefully Noah will be able to hit that same mark in due time.
The Daily Show may be the same in name and structure, but it’s obvious that change is brewing underneath. The set is different, for a start, with Noah getting a much bigger desk. All those blue banners that Stewart used have been replaced with the very sleek silver design. New correspondents are coming in, new jokes are being told with the host changes, etc. One thing I hope to see more of in the future is influence brought on by Noah’s background. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart was definitely impacted by the host being a Jewish man from New Jersey. The Daily Show with Trevor Noah should have a similar level of impact with its host being an African man from Johannesburg. I didn’t expect much of this in the premiere, but as time goes on, it will hopefully seep in further. The show could really improve with that.
Luke Kalamar is Pop-Break.com’s television editor. Every Saturday afternoon you can read his video game column, Remembering the Classics. He covers Game of Thrones, Saturday Night Live and The Walking Dead (amongst others) every week. As for as his career and literary standing goes — take the best parts of Spider-man, Captain America and Luke Skywalker and you will fully understand his origin story.