There’s no way to judge a brand new “Daily Show” on the strength or weakness of a single episode, especially since we’re talking about 20 minutes of material (subtract all of the commercials for “The Walk”). But after watching new host Trevor Noah’s seemingly smooth debut Monday night, I just have to ask: What were we all so afraid of?
“The Daily Show” doesn’t exactly write itself (or perform itself), but there’s plenty about it that’s a well-oiled operation, with or without Jon Stewart. When he signed off in August, Stewart left behind a more-than-capable crew. All that really has to happen is for the news cycle to bring the funny, and in this regard, Noah got pretty lucky, able to make John Boehner jokes (future jobs for the weepy former speaker: onion slicer, seat-filler at a funeral, Claire Danes impersonator), Pope Francis jokes (“He’s like a young Bernie Sanders”), pope penis jokes (oh, yes, he did make a pope penis joke) and water-on-Mars jokes with aplomb. (“Don’t worry, California, they’ll find water on you too, someday.”) Even his edgiest jokes (a little Whitney Houston/crack joke there; an AIDS/aides joke there) seemed well within the expected tenor of “The Daily Show.”
Noah also offered a brief tribute to Stewart’s legacy on the show and likened the changeover to the departure of a father figure, “And now the family has a new stepdad – and he’s black.”
Monday’s “Daily Show” arrived looking more or less (and reassuringly) like itself: Same theme song, same desk arrangement; some light housekeeping, such as sprucing up of fonts and colors that make the show look a tad more Indecision 2016 instead of Indecision 2004. The host is a little spiffier too; as he grows more comfortable, he might even learn to laugh less at his own jokes. Then again, that habit — which Noah shares with a few late-night hosts — can also be endearing.
Perhaps sensing viewers’ fatigue with all the changes in late-night’s seating arrangements in the last two years (and all the accompanying self-regard that entails in monologues and comedy bits), Noah wisely kept the transitional talk to a minimum, cracking one joke about his South African boyhood, when he never would have believed he’d have an indoor toilet and a job hosting “The Daily Show.” (“Now I have both. And I’m quite comfortable with one of them.”) A later segment about House Speaker Boehner’s resignation with correspondent Jordan Klepper turned into an amusingly veiled discussion about successors failing flat on their faces. Then again, as Klepper nervously suggested: “Maybe the new guy will surprise us and just crush it, you know?”
It’s too early for Noah to crush it, but it’s enough for now to just utter a sigh of relief. “The Daily Show” is back, with its essential wit and irreverence intact.