Trevor Noah enters softly into The Daily Show’s ‘beautiful house’

28 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Trevor Noah gives Fox News a free pass: The new “Daily Show” could be great for Ailes and Hannity, bad for America.

Just days before he takes over the “The Daily Show” anchor chair from Jon Stewart, TV’s toughest act to follow, Noah is willing to acknowledge “it isn’t easy to reboot and recreate a new show from an old show in just five weeks.” Which he has been obliged to do, stepping in as host on Monday at 11 p.m. While there is much reason to hope that Noah will bring a fresh perspective, it would be a mistake to miss the very real ways that Noah’s leadership is likely to significantly change the show. Noah, of course, is the 31-year-old South African comedian who until his ascension few had heard of, apart from a worldwide fan base including 2.6 million Twitter followers who flocked to his shows from Sydney to Dubai … and also, notably, Jon Stewart, who admired his work and reached out several years ago for a meet-and-greet. Even though Comedy Central has pushed a few promos that suggest the show will be the same, but different, it’s more likely to be mostly different and a little the same. He’s reminded interviewers that he is a 31-year-old half-black, half-white South African man who arrived in the United States in 2011 and Stewart is a 52-year-old Jewish man who grew up in New Jersey: “The way we look at the same story will be completely different,” he said. “We have different access to different jokes, different sides, different sensitivities … the most important thing is the place that you come from.” But that’s just the beginning.

He jests from the standpoint of someone born to a black mother and a white father 10 years before apartheid ended (“I was born a crime,” he sums up) whose mother had to walk ahead of him as a toddler, pretending not to know him if she saw the police. “I come from a crazy place,” he says. “When I was 25, my mother was shot in the head by my stepfather, an abusive alcoholic. While Noah has since distanced himself from that sort of humor, and while he may well mature in terms of his comedy, it’s important to consider the fact that he comes into this job with virtually no history of political humor. His few appearances on “The Daily Show” were not impressive, but the executives at Comedy Central must have seen something to hand him this important job. Think about his Rally to Restore Sanity on the National Mall, his advocacy for a bill to support 9/11 First Responders, his fight for healthcare for our vets, and his takedown of “Crossfire.” These were all moments when he stepped outside of his role as host and worked to make our democracy stronger.

The Silicon Valley tech boom has driven the price of San Francisco real estate into the stratosphere, and the result is that many long-time residents no longer can afford to live there. I see a lot of hope. “It’s often difficult to see progress when you look at it one day at a time,” he muses. “Like with a workout regime: Take a picture today, then take another picture not tomorrow or the next day, but after six or eight weeks. In fact, Gawker and Buzzfeed could be considered helpful correctives to Fox News, so it is hard to see what sort of productive comedic angle Noah will pursue by covering them. If Noah had said he planned to target Breitbart, The Blaze, NewsBusters or any of the other on-line Fox News-friendly media sources, then we might have been encouraged that he was opening the field but staying true to the concept.

When he interviews Chris Christie later this week, we will get our first real glimpse of how he plans to address U.S. politics, but thus far his jokes have mostly been confined to his not understanding the U.S. system. While the two went head to head multiple times, the debate was a perfect place for Stewart to develop his theory of “Bullshit Mountain.”For Stewart “Bullshit Mountain” referred to the aggressive and delusional conservative rhetoric that aims to destroy political compromise and divide the nation.

But he also did this using satire – a special form of comedy that depends on getting the audience to think critically about the status quo while laughing. When asked by Stephen Colbert about whether his outsider status would affect his ability to be a U.S. based comedian, Noah joked that he could make a joke about city potholes as well as any New Yorker. Such jokes are an example of the low hanging fruit of comedy, and they have little, if anything, in common with the political satire that framed Stewart’s show. One encouraging factor is that Noah won’t be alone: He still has “The Best F#@king News Team Ever.” While there will be three new additions to the team, many familiar faces will still be there, including Jordan Klepper, Hasan Minhaj, Jessica Williams, Lewis Black, John Hodgman, Al Madrigal, Aasif Mandvi and Kristen Schaal.

In one promo he and his staff debated the correct pronunciation of “Zebra” – a move that reinforced the idea that they speak different “languages.” So despite Noah’s assurance in the promo that “it’s still ‘The Daily Show” and nothing’s gonna change,” there is clear evidence that there is plenty of change to come. All signs suggest, though, that Noah may well be more like a combination of Kilborn and Fallon since we have yet to see him offer us comedy that is even a distant cousin to Stewart’s satire. But as Noah has said, “Just the mere fact that I’m gonna be there in the chair changes a whole bunch of the show, you know?” Tonight’s debut will give us a glimpse into just how much.

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