How do you follow a legend? Stephen Colbert did it by not only revamping the theater, but upending the entire format, taking the house that Letterman built and making it something wholly new and original. Trevor Noah chose to hew closer to the original, giving us what seems like an relatively seamless continuation of Jon Stewart’s creation, beginning with a near-identical open, an identical format, and even closing with “Your moment of Zen.” Noah’s cadences and phrasing and comic sensibilities even seem to be homages to Stewart. I say that as a compliment. It’s clear, though, that it will take some time for him to find his own signature for the show.
The night opened with an almost reverent tribute to Jon Stewart, then jumped right into a predictable Pope segment, followed by a clever John Boehner segment that had Noah speculating that people would want “their old John back,” but pleading for them to give the new guy a chance. Noah played these first segments well, delivering the same Stewart-esque humor, but with less indignation and a touch more risqué material, including a weirdly tacky Pope joke.
The show hit its full stride in the next segment about NASA’s discovery of water on Mars, prompting Roy Woods Jr to riff on how “black people ain’t goin’ to Mars!” He gave the show its most laugh out loud moments of the first night.
The show wrapped up with a Kevin Hart interview that would have been okay for some random night a few months from now, but lacked gravity and urgency, especially for a first night. Unlike Colbert who has carefully arranged his guest bookings to make his show more essential viewing, this didn’t telegraph a great message of how strategic they intended to be in their interview segment. We don’t need another slot on late night for celebrities to hawk their wares. Instead, we need A Daily Show that not only makes us laugh but cuts deep. It’s the bully pulpit of late night comedy.
Noah has a likable presence and you definitely have the sense that he will arrive at a distinctive voice once he settles in. For now, there is definitely a “don’t fix what ain’t broke” mentality to the show. I plan to keep watching, which is probably the strongest compliment I can offer.
And by the way, Larry Wilmore’s humble confidence mixed with cutting zingers is pretty genius these days. More reason to believe we are in a time of greatness for late night television. I think Trevor Noah will get there. For now, his show earns a B.
In case you missed last night’s premiere episode, you can watch it here!