Before making his debut Monday night as the new host of The Daily Show, Trevor Noah admitted he was pretty nervous about taking over for Jon Stewart, the esteemed progressive curmudgeon who had perfected the comedic art of watching a video clip and then making a silly face.
Who can blame him? To the legions of intellectually insecure millennials and liberal arts faculty members who require daily reminders that Republicans are bad, Jon Stewart was a Christ-like figure who delivered them from the evils of the Bush-Cheney administration and adorned them in his robe of righteousness (and selectively-edited interviews).
That’s a big robe to fill, especially for a 31-year-old comedian from “the dusty streets of South Africa” who got the job after a number of far more prominent comedians declined.
The Daily Show fans, of course, were gagging for the show’s return, presumably even more so after realizing that Stephen Colbert does not intend to weaponize his new gig as Late Show host for deployment in the war for progressive progress. As Bloomberg’s Will Leitch put it: “The Daily Show, more than it needs a funny host, needs someone whom the audience believes is on their side.”
Noah, who had caused a mild panic earlier this year by suggesting he would try to broaden the show’s appeal and might not devote every minute to bashing Fox News, then had the audacity to appear in an all male photo shoot, did about as well as one could expect given the circumstances. He didn’t burn the house down or anything.
Sufficient homage was paid to Stewart—our “political dad,” who’s been replaced by the “black stepdad” LOL—including a not-so-subtle (and somewhat forced) dialogue with correspondent Jordan Klapper about how sad Republicans are that Boehner’s leaving (they aren’t) and whether his replacement will be up to the challenge.
Noah tried to let the audience know that he was on their side, serving up some red meat about how outgoing House Speaker John Boehner is a really mean crybaby, and comparing Pope Francis to Bernie Sanders—you know, if the Pope subscribed to an ideology often associated with outright hostility toward religious institutions.
Hillary Clinton went unmentioned, obviously, because it’s not like she’s made any news recently, and African-American correspondent Roy Wood Jr. joked about life on Mars, noting that black people won’t be allowed to colonize the new planet because of racism, allowing the mostly white audience to laugh (it was a pretty funny segment), while also taking comfort in their uniquely anti-racist worldview.
At least, I thought Noah’s first effort would be good enough for The Daily Show’s liberal fans. One would think the mere fact that Noah is half black and from another country would make it near impossible for an audience of such self-declared cultural sophisticates to turn against him any time soon. So I thought. Then I read some of the early reviews.
Time Magazine’s Daniel D’Addario was not impressed, complaining that Noah’s political jokes weren’t “substantial” enough, and his bit on Pope-themed emojis failed to “meaningfully examine” the Pontiff’s historic visit. And don’t get him (or the many others) started on Noah’s “erratically scathing” jokes about problematic subjects such as AIDS (it’s pronounced the same as Congressional “aides” LOL) and the late Whitney Houston (she loved cocaine LOL).
The jokes weren’t funny, but credit to Noah for letting them fly in the wake of another minor scandal involving his problematic Twitter feed, which was mined following the announcement of his hiring, and subsequently denounced for its years-old “sexist” and “anti-Semitic” (and not particularly funny) content. Noah has been admonished, in the words of Bloomberg’s Leitch, for his “inability, culturally based or otherwise, to accurately read the outrage winds that push today’s conversation.”
I’m no Daily Show fan, but I couldn’t help but pity Noah for being asked to fill the cosmic void that Stewart’s departure has created in the partisan hearts of his admirers. On top of that, Noah’s debut coincides with the ascendance of an internet-driven outrage culture that effectively kills comedy with its army of hypersensitive grievance mongers. It makes one doubt whether a young Jon Stewart could thrive in an age where someone like Amy Schumer can be celebrated as a progressive hero, and weeks later be denounced as a heartless racist.
Be sure to tune in later this week when The Daily Show welcomes musical guest Ryan Adams, who was recently condemned for his “mansplaining” covers of Taylor Swift songs, as well as Chris Christie, a mean Republican.