Arts & Entertainment, Features

REVIEW: Trevor Noah debuts as earnest, awkward on “The Daily Show”

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 28:  Trevor Noah hosts Comedy Central's "The Daily Show with Trevor Noah" premiere on September 28, 2015 in New York City.  (Photo by Brad Barket/Getty Images for Comedy Central)
NEW YORK, NY – SEPTEMBER 28: Trevor Noah hosts Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah” premiere on September 28, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Brad Barket/Getty Images for Comedy Central)

“The Daily Show with Trevor Noah” premiered Monday on Comedy Central, marking Noah’s first appearance as the replacement for the beloved Jon Stewart, and while Noah made an admirable first attempt to fill Stewart’s shoes, he inevitably fell short in a show tinted with awkwardness.

Noah, 31, was born in South Africa during apartheid and eventually moved to the United States in 2011. He joined “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” in 2014 as a recurring contributor, and in March after a lot of studio discussions, it was announced that he would be Stewart’s successor. As Noah amusingly observed, “a job Americans rejected is now being done by an immigrant.”

Similar moments of humor were sparse throughout the premiere, but not entirely absent. A “Daily Show”-esque segment about the Pope was an excellent example of this. Noah began by talking about a new set of Pope emoticons, graciously named “popemojis.” The joke took a painfully long time to get off the ground, and it seemed as if it would never do so until Noah comically displayed a visual example of a conversation using the popemojis.

This was pretty much how the rest of “The Daily Show” went — it was awkward to watch. Even Noah looked as though he wasn’t quite comfortable with the role yet, and seemed to acknowledge that some of the humor was forced. At one point, he even fumbled around a few words.

Thankfully, though, this is something that will assuredly improve as Noah gains more experience in his seat. As the show goes on, he will likely feel more comfortable and find his style. Here’s hoping, anyway.

What won’t improve organically, though, is the content of the jokes made during the premiere. Noah relied heavily upon gag humor instead of satire, and this decision certainly did not play in his favor. An “under-compensating” joke regarding the Pope’s Fiat felt slightly juvenile.

There were also a few jokes that were quite surprising. One regarding AIDS and another about the death of Whitney Houston stuck out as being bold jokes for a first-time presenter to make. While comedians should push the envelope, it shouldn’t be simply for the sake of doing so. Unfortunately, these jokes may have been another awkward instance of Noah looking for his niche, but some just fell flat.

During the show, Noah called himself the new, young stepdad of “The Daily Show” and acknowledged that the audience would miss and be partial to their original father, Stewart. This rang true throughout the show as Noah strived to find his place as a presenter. It was clear that he wanted to ingratiate his new audience, and despite all the shortcomings of his show’s premiere, there is hope for him yet.

As so many have pointed out, Noah can bring a new and more global experience to the seat. Hopefully in the future, this will take the form of something other than a joke about his first experience with an indoor toilet.

All of this being said, it was a difficult task for Noah to replace Stewart, who was a presenter on “The Daily Show” for more than 15 years, outside of a short stretch featuring John Oliver. It will be interesting to see where Noah takes “The Daily Show” in the future, as well as how he will cope with replacing someone so beloved by television audiences.

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