As someone who spent a worryingly significant portion of my university days watching US cable news networks at ridiculous hours in the evening, I’m arguably more familiar with the parody ripe nature of the 24 hour news cycle than most Brits. I came to the phenomenon through the Obama election and the growth of the Tea Party, watching in train-wreck fascination how it all unfolded, and tweeted along with friends as we watched the same reports on CNN or MSNBC. Yes, I’m Britain’s dullest woman.
I never quite clicked with Jon Stewart’s tenure on The Daily Show, but it was never intended for me. I didn’t have to live through the Bush Presidency first hand, so I didn’t need the truth telling comic prophet to alleviate my fears. While I often found Stewart incredibly funny – all his Glenn Beck parodies are genius – I also never clicked with a lot of his style. His retirement from the show certainly didn’t leave the gap in my heart it did for millions of others, which I sympathise with, so perhaps this is one of the reasons I’m such a fan and defender of Trevor Noah’s time as host.
I’ve read more think-pieces complaining about Noah’s work on the show than I’ve had hot dinners. They all seem to follow the same routes of lamentation regarding his style or wobbly moments, and they all tie back to the same problem: They don’t like Noah because he’s not Stewart.
Of course he isn’t Stewart. Thankfully so, in my opinion.
Trevor Noah is a 32 year old South African comedian whose work was hugely celebrated before he ever worked on The Daily Show. I remember the Summer he made his debut at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and hearing as that show became the talk of the town. News that he would be taking over the show gave me hope, and despite some teething problems, it’s become one of my favourite programmes currently on air. The basic format hasn’t changed much from Stewart’s time – occasionally Noah leaves the desk to stand by a screen, but otherwise it’s almost identical – but it feels fresher and almost more gleeful.
Noah’s demeanour is that of the guy who can’t believe his luck and is thankful for it every day. He’s not one for loud ranting or salting-the-earth grandstanding, and I’m not sure he could ever get away with it. Stewart’s a white dude: His anger was seen as prophetic and inspiring. Noah screaming would elicit more than a few sneers of ‘angry black man’. I think this is what stops a lot of people from warming to him in lieu of their Stewart dedication: They feel the need for a leader, or a voice of reason that everyone can rally behind (and Stewart did literally rally people on one occasion). That’s understandable given this current election cycle, but yearning for that style overlooks the skill of Noah and his team’s work.
His correspondents are younger, more diverse in terms of race and gender, and their mere presence changes the show. This isn’t so much a straightforward parody of the news cycle they report on as it is a gathering of the dreaded millennials to point at the world and wonder what the hell is going on. Incredible talents like Jessica Williams, Roy Wood Jr, Jordan Klepper, Desi Lydic and Hasan Minhaj play off of Trevor’s casual charm and provide some of the biggest laughs of the show (Black Trump, anyone?)
The past few weeks of segments have brought a number of joys: From the US Women’s Soccer Team pay scandal to the incredible spectacle of the Lindsay Graham interview to the entire episode dedicated to the North Carolina trans bathroom bill to every time Noah gets to lampoon his country’s own President, Jacob Zuma. Everything one expects from the show is here – the cutting insight, the humour, the charm – but with unexpected freshness.
Many people aren’t so much mourning the loss of Stewart’s tenure as they are the idea of what it represented at a particular moment in time. In 2016, in the great age of TV (and supposedly too much of it), we have more options. It’s no longer the old white dudes of late night network talk shows versus the edgy news satire of cable.
Now we have glimmers of diversity (Noah, Larry Wilmore, Samantha Bee) combined with the all important need to appeal to younger viewers and the viral crowd. Jimmy Fallon plays goofy games with celebrities; Jimmy Kimmel snarks from the sidelines; James Corden borrows from his British counterparts with their easy going style; the new Colbert is the erudite statesman with a brow held high; Conan combines YouTube friendly gamer shenanigans with idiosyncratic travelogues; Larry Wilmore’s show is the barbershop to discuss primarily black-focused social issues; Samantha Bee is the sharp eyed woman sick of having to explain the same feminist issues to all the guys over and over; Chelsea Handler is the bawdy broad who always goes there; Chris Hardwick is the nerd cracking one liners and using hashtags; and Trevor Noah is the newcomer to these here shores who’s giddy to be in the midst of the madness.
We don’t need the single voice of ‘reason’ anymore, and thank the powers that be for offering us more. Noah is one of many options you can enjoy for your late night goodness, and he’s a fine choice to make. He’s still learning, but the process is always interesting and entertaining to watch, providing necessary laughs and eyerolls to accompany the most depressing election season ever. Noah jokes frequently about going back to South Africa if it all goes to hell; if things do go south politically, I hope he sticks around.