30 Sep 2015

The verdict on Trevor Noah's Daily Show

11:34 am on 30 September 2015

After 16 years of hosting the US series, could The Daily Show succeed without Jon Stewart?

This, at least, was the question on every commentator's lips and at every internet warrior's fingertips when the veteran host announced, earlier this year, that he was leaving the programme.

Trevor Noah

Trevor Noah Photo: AFP / Comedy Central

Last night, his replacement, South African Trevor Noah, stepped up to the plate for his first episode, which aired in New Zealand at midnight on Sky's Comedy Central.

While a humming South African twitterati made profligate use of their national flag emoji, general reaction was more mixed, following an episode that saw Noah grappling with what The Daily Show meant without its longtime, and much-loved, frontman.

"I can only assume that this is as strange for you as it is for me," he told audiences.

"Jon Stewart was more than just a late-night host, he was often our voice, our refuge, and in many ways, our political dad.

"And it's weird, because Dad has left. And now it feels like the family has a new step-dad - and he's black, which is not ideal."

Jon Stewart

Jon Stewart Photo: AFP

US publication Entertainment Weekly put it succintly: "Trevor Noah's first Daily Show was mostly a Daily Show about the Daily Show."

"Noah's new Daily Show wasn't trying to be viral, global, or young. It was just trying to be The Daily Show."

The Hollywood Reporter went a little further: "The best and most honest thing you can say about Monday's premiere is: 'He didn't break it.' He also didn't try to."

But with such hefty shoes to fill, it made sense for Noah to mention the elephant who had only recently left the room.

The program has maintained many of the same writing staff, reported media blog Gawker, leaving Noah's show with a similar "vibe" to his predecessor's.

"If you liked that Daily Show, this one has some very good news for you: it's basically the same!", wrote Jordan Sargent, in a piece that called Noah's efforts 'instantly recognisable'.

And though he has yet to reinvent the wheel, media commentators, supportive celebrity pals and the buzzing internet hivemind are apparently optimistic about the future of the series.

Vulture's Matt Zoller Seitz felt confident that Noah would make the show "his own", while the New York Times hoped he would "give his audience less of what it wants, and more of what it doesn't yet know it needs."

Even Noah's harsher critics acknowledged that, for his debut on such a heavyweight show, it could have gone a lot worse.

The Guardian's Brian Moylan lambasted Noah for his 'softball' interviewing technique, but acknowledged that he "had an average first night, neither killing it nor completely embarrassing himself."

And though the format of the show may be similar, for astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson the programme's initial tweaks were literally world-changing.

Who is Trevor Noah?

The 31-year-old comedian comes from the country's biggest township of Soweto. He is the son of a black South African woman of Xhosa background and a white Swiss man.

In a place polarised by race, his great sense of humour cuts across the racial divide.

He started his career on a local soap opera and progressed to host a celebrity gossip show. He also had a stint as a DJ on a popular show at a youth station.

His self-deprecating humour has gained him a legion of fans. He previously described himself as a "bag of weed", because his mother used to drop him as soon she saw the apartheid police in the 80s.

Under South African law at the time, multiracial romantic relationships were prohibited.

His mixed-race heritage, experiences of growing up in Soweto and observations about race are the leading themes in his comedy.

Noah is a multi-linguist who speaks six South African languages and is conversant in German and French.

In 2013 he became the first African comedian to perform on Jay Leno's Tonight Show in the United States.

Last December, he made his debut as an international correspondent on The Daily Show, offering an outsider's perspective on life in America. After only three appearances, he was offered the top slot taking over from Jon Stewart.


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