Entertainment TV Trevor Noah’s Daily Show debut was far from perfect
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Trevor Noah’s Daily Show debut was far from perfect

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Jon Stewart finished his 16-year tenure as the anchor of The Daily Show in August and on Tuesday afternoon – Monday night American time – Trevor Noah sat in his chair for the first time.

The pressure on 31-year-old Trevor Noah was palpable. Would Noah crash and burn or bring a fresh, new perspective?

Though he is used to tough situations (he grew up in the mean streets of Soweto in South Africa), Noah seemed giggly and a little nervous during his first stint on air as head of the hit Comedy Central show.

Noah’s jokes about Speaker of the US House of Representatives, John Boehner, leaving his role soon turned to jokes about Jon Stewart leaving the chair.

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“All I hear is Jon please come back, please come back,” Noah quipped to correspondent Jordan Klepper who was covering the story.

Likewise jokes about race surfaced with correspondent Roy Wood Junior stating that black people wouldn’t be invited to colonise Mars (NASA scientists announced on Tuesday they have found water on the red planet).

“Black people ain’t going to Mars and that includes you Trevor … Folks haven’t decided whether they like you or not,” Wood joked.

The show stuck to the formula made famous by Stewart and his writers, correspondents and crew, but with a younger sensibility brought by Noah.

Noah’s Australian correspondent, Ronny Chieng, was nowhere to be seen.

Earlier this year, Stewart said of Noah: “I can say this, I think, without hesitation: Trevor Noah will earn your trust and respect — or not. Just as I earned your trust and respect … or did not.

“My experience with him is that he is an incredibly thoughtful and considerate and funny and smart individual, and man, I think you give him that time, and it’s going to be well worth it.”

Our report card for Trevor Noah on The Daily Show.

So, how did Jon Stewart and Trevor Noah compare as hosts of The Daily Show? We break it down.

Jokes

Jon Stewart’s gags were incredibly smart and funny and at times self-deprecating. His focus on politics, racism and sexism were always well received.

Trevor Noah’s jokes on his first show were equally as smart and self-deprecating – Noah cut his teeth as a stand-up comedian around South Africa and the US giving him street smarts.

His age and South African background added a new flavour to the show, as well as opening the doors for deeper discussion – comedic or otherwise – of race relations in the US.

Opening monologue

Jon Stewart’s monologues were always done with a sincerity and authority that was hard to beat. He won a legion of “young, liberal” fans that trusted him more than the news channels covering stories.

Trevor Noah’s opening focussed on stepping into the new chair and on some US politics. The formula was familiar though his delivery was giggly at times – which could be his style or merely due to nerves.

Interview technique

In 1999 when Jon Stewart started on the show his first guest was Michael J Fox, who was starring in Spin City at the time. His dry wit and sense of humour made for some interesting exchanges with guests. He has a degree in Psychology from the College of William and Mary which he has said gives him a drive to get answers to questions.

Comedian Kevin Hart was Trevor Noah’s first guest. Noah’s technique was brash and lacking in the finesse of Stewart. This may come with time and experience.

Approach

Jon Stewart’s approach to stories was often deadpan and serious though he did show emotion, most memorably after the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington. In a clip that remains hard to watch, Stewart broke down and asked the audience if they were okay.

Trevor Noah’s cheekier approach to the show was markedly different form Stewart. With a disarming grin he charmed studio audience members but it remains to be seen whether the approach gels with the viewers at home.

Controversy

Jon Stewart skewered politicians and pop stars alike.

Famously, he appeared on Fox TV’s The O’Reilly Factor – going toe to toe with conservative pundit Bill O’Reilly.

He also had a phone argument with Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane over a gag he did on the cartoon about The Daily Show continuing to air during an actor’s strike in Hollywood. The two disagreed over whether or not The Daily Show should have gone to air.

Trevor Noah inadvertently created a media storm before starting on the show with his tweets about Jewish people and women. He called the controversial tweets “a handful of jokes that didn’t land”. The controversy struck after he was named Stewart’s successor.

Noah will need to step it up and take more risks if he’s to have the kind of impact and influence that Jon Stewart had.

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