Since John Stewart’s heartbreaking departure from The Daily Show in August 2015 his replacement Trevor Noah has been put to the test. Has Noah been able to fill the void left by Stewart? Or, more importantly, Have audiences accepted Noah as the new face of a show renowned for its creative and cutting criticism of politics?
Trevor Noah’s first episode aired on September 28, 2015. Noah has, in many ways been able to fill the void left by Stewart’s departure. Born in South Africa, this “immigrant” has had no trouble poking fun at his own status, often using his position as an outsider to shed light on the way in which America can be viewed from other continents. Whenever a particularly nasty line comes out of a politician’s mouth, Noah seems to actually enjoy reminding the audience that he’s really doing the show for their benefit — he himself can head back to South Africa anytime.
Noah has successfully used his status to bring perspective to American viewers despairing over the surprising rise of Donald Trump. In a segment aired in early December 2015, Noah compared Trump to several South African dictators, the only difference being that the dictators were actually in power whereas Trump was only a candidate (so far). Noah scored another big win with the segment “Donald Trump Wants To Bang His Daughter,” a line which Noah has continued to use almost every time Trump’s name is brought up. By consistently associating Trump’s name with that segment, many of his viewers will never again be able to think of Trump without thinking of that disgusting idea.
The show has also taken some swings at the Democratic Party. In a new segment called “Wooing Black Voters,” a clip of Bill Clinton playing the saxophone was dug up, and then subsequently used as the only viable reason that African Americans were voting for Hillary Clinton.
However, Noah has a ways to go before he is able to master Stewart’s three great tools — wit, anger and smart writing. Stewart’s segment in September 2014 is a perfect example. Called “Burn Noticed,” Stewart used humor and satire to successfully make an entire room of senators look like complete idiots. The segment meticulously picked apart a video of Presidential Science Advisor John Holdren attempting to explain global warming to the House of Representatives Committee for Science, Space and Technology. At one point Stewart went as far as to pull out a large bowl of water and a cup of ice to explain to the particularly dim (receiving campaign contributions from some particularly large oil companies) Senator Steve Stockman how global warming actually works.
The clip also highlights one of the greatest differences between Stewart and Noah. Alternet writer Sophia McClennan aptly described how, “For Stewart, the goal was to use irony to get the audience thinking. Calling bulls–t was only the beginning. For Noah, the game seems to be to call bulls–t, then run away laughing.” Critics have been consistent in pointing out this lack of substance in Noah’s satire in comparison to Stewart’s voice. However, as many have pointed out, Stewart had 16 years to become the legend that he is, while Noah has only been given a few months.
Is Noah as captivating as Stewart? The answer is a little complicated. Looking at the statistics, it seems to be not so much a question of whether the audience is accepting him but which audience is accepting him. While in general The Daily Show ratings have dropped since Stewart’s departure, youth viewership has been on the rise. Comparing February 2015 ratings to early 2016 ratings, viewership has dropped over 30%, but according to Viacom, The Daily Show is the most watched nightly show by adults 18-24. According to The Wrap, 40% of viewers are watching Noah’s show digitally compared to the 30% of Stewart’s viewers who watched online, which could foreshadow some changes The Daily Show will be making to bring in a younger audience.
In an interview with Esquire Magazine, Noah walks into the writer’s room and, “starts off by proposing that they start running shorter, self-contained pieces that will play better on social media. ‘The way people consume information is so bite-sized,’ he tells the room. ‘People want to watch a thing and be done. It’s almost like you want to get to the point where you design the show in that way.”’ Noah’s suggestion could come from the two things that make Noah a unique and necessary voice in the late night scene: age, (32) and diverse background.
Aside from Larry Wilmore, Noah is the only black nighttime show host in a genre dominated mostly by white males (thank you Samantha Bee and Chelsea Handler for working to change that) and a very real argument can be made that the late night show needs a more youthful face in order to bring it to a younger audience.
For the majority of Stewart’s tenure, 65% of his audience was over 50. In an age and culture dominated by youth, it’s surprising that aside from Noah, there’s not a single late show host younger than James Cordon (37.) Noah is able to understand millennials and, after all, it seems that the group most likely to be awake at 11 p.m. on a weeknight is the 18-24 age range.