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Trevor Noah Puts Comedy Ahead Of Activism


Trevor Noah’s first episode of “The Daily Show” left me feeling like I was watching a really solid cover band, except no one appeared to live in his car or reek of poor life choices. Aside from that, every major staple of the Stewart Era was in place, minus one noteworthy element.

There wasn’t a single reference to Fox News in the entire, 33-minute hoedown, which is “The Daily Show” equivalent of going to dinner at the Hatfield’s and not hearing a single word about the McCoys. Hell, there wasn’t even a Trump joke, although to be fair, most of them have been told, more than once.

If Jon Stewart was the Beatles of political satire, Noah’s first episode was a McCartney concert: you got all the Beatles classics, minus the Lennon stuff with the social conscience. There was no “Working Class Hero” or “Woman Is The N-Word Of The World.” This was all “Hey Jude” and “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.”

Just be glad there wasn’t a ton of Wings stuff. Or, heaven forbid, the stuff Paul did for the Starbucks label. Talk about a Venti disappointment.

All That’s Left Is Laughter

Some people will get mad at the show for taking a more centrist tone, but what we saw is that Trevor Noah is putting comedy ahead of activism. That’s a good thing, even on “The Daily Show,” because now more than ever, we just need to laugh.

In the past week, the pope visited our country, the moon turned orange in some sort of cosmic tribute to John Boehner, yet somehow the most popular video on the web was a rat dragging a slice of pizza down the subway steps. In other words, we’re finished as a people, so we might as well punt on the partisan squabble and yuk it up.

If tonight’s episode was any indication, we’ll be doing plenty of that, because this dude has some grown-up comedy chops. Even when he misses—AIDS jokes, anyone?—he’s self-aware enough to call himself on it.

Here’s the Highlight Reel

Now, if you’re like most Americans, you didn’t see it, because you were sweating out the rent on Monday Night Football, so I’ll give you the box score on what you missed.

(I heard something during the game about the Packers retiring Brett Favre’s jersey number. When are they going to retire his cell phone number?)

This guy is all kinds of likable, and he’s pretty darned good-looking to boot.

In his opening monologue, Trevor scored early with self-deprecating jokes about the improbability of him growing up to have indoor plumbing, let alone hosting “The Daily Show.” Along the way he gave a shout-out to Stewart and pointed out the awkwardness of being the viewer’s new, black stepdad.

He also acknowledged the outcry over a woman not getting the show (the ones who were asked turned it down because they knew something he didn’t) and called the pope a younger-looking Bernie Sanders. He closed by throwing it to correspondent Jordan Klepper for a classic Stewart-era split screen, in which they deadpanned their way through a misunderstanding over replacing Boehner and Stewart.

My takeaway at this point: This guy is all kinds of likable, and he’s pretty darned good-looking to boot. I say that as a man who was a six on his wedding day. My personal highlight is when Noah talked about Boehner not being conservative enough for some Republicans, which he said was the equivalent of crack lecturing meth about the need to be more addictive.

The bit didn’t really work, but as he played the character of crack, he joked about his ability to take down Whitney Houston. It got more of a groan than a laugh, but I applaud him for taking the shot, and I look forward to the inevitable blogs calling him the antichrist for telling the joke.

For my money, of which there is little, this was a great first segment.

It Got Funnier

Trevor handed off to correspondent Roy Wood, Jr. for the discovery of water on Mars, and what ensued was the highlight of the show. Wood is crazy funny as a comic, and he doesn’t disappoint as a correspondent. He opened by telling Trevor that he doesn’t give a shit that there’s water on Mars because black people aren’t going to be invited. There really wasn’t a second gear to it, but they didn’t need one because the dude is funny on sight. The game ball goes to whoever wrote the line: “A black man can’t catch a cab, let alone a spaceship.”

The game ball goes to whoever wrote the line: ‘A black man can’t catch a cab, let alone a spaceship.’

In segment three, Kevin Hart came out to plug his new fitness initiative and do Kevin Hart stuff. Think references to his height, stories that didn’t seem to have a point or a punch line, but a manic energy that made the interview go much quicker than it would appear on paper. If there’s any similarity between Trevor Noah and Jon Stewart, it’s that he’s happy to be the straight man and pitch high-arc softballs to his guests.

If there’s any other similarity between Hart and Stewart, it’s that neither told a joke on “The Daily Show” last night.

The show ended with a piece that goes back to the Craig Kilborn era called the Moment Of Zen. It’s usually a short video clip that has some relevance to what you’ve already watched. Tonight’s clip featured House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi getting tripped up as she attempted to diplomatically describe Boehner’s retirement. Was it big-time funny? No. But it moved fast and left us smiling. That’s a perfect metaphor for this episode.

Congratulations to Noah and the entire “Daily Show” posse. You’re 1-0 no matter how pizza rat slices it. But don’t get too excited, because so were the Kansas City Chiefs and the Miami Dolphins at one point. And we all know what came next.