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'The Daily Show' Introduces A New Host — And A Familiar Feel

Comedian Trevor Noah hosts his first episode of <em>The Daily Show </em>on Sept. 28.
Brad Barket
Getty Images
Comedian Trevor Noah hosts his first episode of The Daily Show on Sept. 28.

From his first moments on air, new host Trevor Noah gave fans The Daily Show they have known and loved for years, with a few upgrades.

There were new graphics and a new desk, but the same old frat rock guitar music in the intro and the same show-closing Moment of Zen. Noah even began his hosting gig last night by talking about the guy he was succeeding, recently departed Daily Show host Jon Stewart.

"Jon Stewart was more than just a late night host ... he was often our voice, our refuge and in many ways, our political dad," Noah said. "And it's weird, because dad has left. And now it feels like the family has a new stepdad. And he's black."

When Noah was first named as Stewart's successor, fans and pundits had no idea what to expect. Would this 31-year-old South African comic bring a more international perspective? Would he focus more on social media and less on Stewart's beloved New York Mets? (Fear not! Noah snuck in a Mets joke that he admittedly didn't understand.)

Turns out, much of Monday night's show on Comedy Central covered ground familiar to longtime viewers, maybe because the program kept a lot of writers and producers from Stewart's era. Noah even referenced Stewart's final Daily Show speech in promising to keep up his predecessor's struggle against hypocrisy.

"Thank you for joining us," he said, "as we continue the War on B***S***."

Some may have expected a more global view from Noah, the child of a white father and black mother born in apartheid-era South Africa. But the closest he got was a joke about indoor plumbing. "Growing up in the dusty streets of South Africa, I never dreamed I that I would one day have ... well, an indoor toilet, and a job as host of The Daily Show."

He also referenced reports that several American celebrities turned down the host's job before he got it, noting "once more, a job Americans rejected, is now being done by an immigrant."

Many of the bits were hit-or-miss, with some leaden punchlines saved by Noah's own smooth enthusiasm, honed by years of hosting TV shows in his native South Africa.

At times, he played up his outsider status, building one joke around explaining how outgoing House Speaker John Boehner's job really works. And he set up new correspondent Roy Wood Jr. nicely, asking him if reports that scientists may have found water on Mars could mean that people might soon live there.

"People like who — me and you?" said Wood, who is black. "How am I going to get there? A brother can't catch a cab, you think we can catch a spaceship?"

Turns out, Monday night was a pretty good evening for diversity in late night. Noah capped his show by interviewing African-American comic Kevin Hart, which led into a new episode of The Nightly Show with host Larry Wilmore, who is black. "New Daily Show viewers, don't be confused," Wilmore said in the opening minutes of his show. "I'm a different light-skinned brother late night host. It's the first time late night's gone black to black."

Despite its diversity, Monday night's Daily Show felt so similar to Stewart's era, it was like watching the new host try on a suit tailor-made for someone else. It didn't fully play to Noah's strengths.

There's some precedent here. When Stewart took over The Daily Show from original host Craig Kilborn, his first shows mirrored Kilborn's less incisive approach. It wasn't until Stewart had hosted the show for many months that he tweaked the roster of writers and correspondents to feature humor from his sensibilities.

Noah was an energetic and engaging host. But like many rookies, he struggled most with the interview segment, gushing a bit too much over Hart. Still, I can't wait to see what the program will look like in a few months, when Noah gets a chance to nip and tuck The Daily Show to fit his own style a little closer.

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Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.
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