3 Takeaways From Trevor Noah’s Daily Show Debut

Comedian doesn't veer from what worked under Jon Stewart

Headshot of Jason Lynch

That sound you just heard was Comedy Central exhaling.

The Trevor Noah era of The Daily Show kicked off Monday night, and it felt like the summer of 2013 over again. Two years ago, John Oliver filled in for host Jon Stewart, and proved the program could still be funny and innovative, even with someone else in the anchor chair: The Daily Show, ultimately, was more than just Stewart.

Noah proved that again Monday night, as he smoothly assumed his new role of host, presiding over a show that stuck to the same tried-and-true format that was so hilariously successful under Stewart. Viacom pulled out all the stops for his debut, simulcasting it across all its major networks (did CMT audiences know what they were in for?).

From the first moments (the opening theme) to the last ("your moment of Zen"), it was clear that The Daily Show with Trevor Noah was going to bear a striking resemblance to The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (even the pre-Stewart Craig Kilborn-hosted version had those familiar bookends). Noah might be late-night's first millennial host, but at least for now, he's not going to shake up The Daily Show that audiences know and love.

Many of the jokes—including the segments about Pope Francis' visit and John Boehner's surprising resignation ("Why leave now? I just got here!")—hit right in The Daily Show's sweet spot. (The Mars/California water jokes, however, felt like a rehash of everyone's social media feeds from Monday.)

Here are three takeaways from the first Daily Show with Trevor Noah:

He had the right mix of reverence and irreverence.

Right off the bat, Noah acknowledged the potential awkwardness of replacing a late-night legend like Stewart. "I can only assume that this is as strange for you as it is for me," he said, explaining that Stewart was "in many ways, our political dad. And it's weird, because dad has left. And now it feels like the family has a new stepdad. And he's black."

Noah thanked Stewart for having faith in him and vowed, "I'll make you not look like the crazy old dude who left his inheritance to some random kid from Africa." And in the clearest indication yet that the show will continue to follow in Stewart's footsteps, Noah promised to "continue the war on bullshit," echoing Stewart's final words during his poignant Daily Show finale last month.

He wasn't afraid to take some risks.

Even on a night when he was focused on assuring skeptical viewers that everything was going to be OK, Noah didn't play it safe with a few edgier barbs that went up to (or just over) the line. While imagining a conversation between crack and meth, he joked that crack was bragging about "taking down" Whitney Houston ("too soon?"). Another line about Club Congress being filled with people who have "aides" was also off-putting, and an indication that he's likely to find himself in hot water more than once in the weeks and months to come.

He shouldn't try to imitate Stewart—except in two areas. 

No one is expecting Noah to be the next Stewart, nor should he be. Then again, perhaps Noah should watch some tape of Stewart's fantastic (and frequent) spit takes, because Noah's first attempt came up short. The same could be said for his first interview with actor/comedian Kevin Hart, who took control of the discussion from the moment he sat down. Then again, lots of late-night hosts are weak interviewers, and as Noah's confidence increases, so should his interviewing prowess. 

Those quibbles aside, it was a solid debut from Noah. While his first episode leaned heavily on "new guy" humor—"You've only had The Daily Show for one commercial break!" correspondent Roy Wood, Jr. told him at one point. "These white people haven't decided if they like you yet!"—it succeeded in the most important way: He assured audiences that even though a relative stranger might be behind the desk, the Daily Show's comic spirit lives on. And that's all that Comedy Central could have hoped for from his first night. 

@jasonlynch jason.lynch@adweek.com Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.