Teeth gleaming like an ad for Crest, his smile broad and generous, Trevor Noah made his debut Monday night as host of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show on a sleek set that tried very hard to look the same and different all at once. The same, of course, might be said for the show, which will try very earnestly to replicate the success Jon Stewart brought to it, without breaking too much of a bead.
Earnest indeed might be the best descriptive for a first night that was mostly inoffensive but also mostly flat. That’s certainly to be expected. No amount of pre-debut prep could substitute for the real thing, and both the South Africa-born comedian and his audiences In-House and Out There deserve some time to get to know each other.
“It is surreal for me,” he noted in his opening monologue. “I never dreamed that I would have an indoor toilet and a job as host of The Daily Show and now I have both and I’m quite comfortable with one of them.” Calling Stewart “our voice, our refuge,” he acknowledged that “now it feels like the family has a new stepdad. And he’s black.” That got some noisy applause. He continued by noting that no women wanted the role — and no one else, for that matter. “So now a job Americans rejected is now being done by an immigrant.” Sigh. In a final nod to Stewart, Noah said, “Thank you for joining us as we continue the war on bullshit.”
Having dispensed with the tribute to his predecessor, Noah took a stroll through the news of the day, landing on John Boehner’s resignation, the pope’s visit (“He’s like a young Bernie Sanders!”) and the discovery of liquid water on Mars. That last provided an opportunity for Noah to show he can do a spit-take with the best of them (though it lacked a certain Danny Thomas joie de vivre), and to meet The Daily Show‘s newest team member, Senior Mars Correspondent Roy Wood Jr. He proved to be the highlight of the show.
Asked how he felt about the water discovery, Wood said he frankly didn’t give a sh!t, which wasn’t funny, but he continued, “Every couple of years on Mars, NASA finds a face in the dirt, a tire track, now they found a little Martian runoff water? They want us to be excited about f*cking water?” That was good enough for me. “Leave Mars alone,” he implored, adding that black folks won’t be going to Mars anyway, because, you know, that business about hailing a cab, how are they going to catch a rocket to the planet? “Brothers ain’t going to Mars,” he said, amending it to “Beyoncé, Oprah and Michael Strahan” will be the only ones to go. And P.S., don’t send him first. “I don’t want to be the Jackie Robinson of Mars.”
Through it all, Noah smiled, and smiled. He smiles large. His guest was Kevin Hart, whose new concert preceded the broadcast. He brought Noah a box of ties. They talked shop a bit about doing stand-up, and Hart sang the praises of the runner’s life. As I said, earnest.
A joke about Whitney Houston was DOA, as was a tired play on AIDS versus aides, and still the smile never left Noah’s face even as the words hobbled out and died. He could use a little citrus injection in his responses. “Too soon?” he said after the Houston joke. Nah — too lame. Those teeth need more bite.
So the writing and the delivery have a way to go, and how could they not? It was opening night. There were no fatalities.