The Frame

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Why Trevor Noah still hasn't found his groove on 'The Daily Show'

by Cameron Kell and John Horn | The Frame

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Viewers still have yet to come around to Trevor Noah as the new host of "The Daily Show." Brad Barket/Getty Images for Comedy Central

When Jon Stewart left "The Daily Show" last August, it was assumed that his successor would need some time to find his footing. 

But four months into Trevor Noah's tenure, his ratings have dropped more steeply than expected, and they have yet to climb back anywhere near the ratings of "The Daily Show" of old.

And with an election cycle that offers constant comedic fodder, "The Daily Show" still hasn’t found its way back to the center of the cultural conversation.

Joining host John Horn to talk about the state of the new "Daily Show" is Willa Paskin. She's the TV critic at Slate.com and she recently wrote an article with this headline: "Why Are Americans Ignoring Trevor Noah?"

Interview Highlights:

This should be a period of low-hanging fruit for "The Daily Show." We've got Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Bernie Sanders and even Sarah Palin. And yet, I think you could make the argument that Stephen Colbert, now theoretically shackled by network TV, has had more teeth than Trevor Noah. Do you agree? What's happening there?

Yeah. [laughs] I think that it's very hard to begin a late-night show, and I think it's even harder to do it when you're filling someone's shoes. And Jon Stewart obviously left very big shoes to fill, and I think "The Daily Show," as it is, is currently on training wheels.

They're not quite sure what Trevor Noah's particularly good at, so he's kind of doing a wan impersonation of Jon Stewart, one that is just not as personal and not as passionate. Trevor Noah's obviously very likable, he's very telegenic, but I think that he just doesn't quite care enough yet about American politics for it to be working in the context of "The Daily Show."

In your article, you cited two clips: one in which Trevor Noah introduced his viewers to Bernie Sanders, and one in which Jon Stewart introduced his viewers to Bernie Sanders. And I think those clips say it all. It explains their different approaches to comedy, covering politics, and their different attitudes.

Yeah, I think so. I mean, the Trevor Noah bit is not a terrible joke, per se, but it is emptier. It's not a great joke, and it's certainly not super insightful. And Jon Stewart's is not necessarily a joke, although he delivers it in his own certain way, so we're inclined to think it's funny. But it's much more insightful about what's actually happening.

You mention this as well, but it seems like Trevor Noah's pursuing a different brand of comedy than Jon Stewart — that Stewart covered the news coverage of the news, while Trevor Noah is covering just the news.

I think the decision not to cover the media's coverage of news, to not cover cable news the way that "The Daily Show" did, is totally wise. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert rang that bell a lot for a decade, and they sort of definitively proved that cable news, as watched as it is, is often ridiculous and full of nonsense.

So the decision to just focus instead on the news is wise, but it does make "The Daily Show" more like everything else, so it relies even more heavily on the host, his own talent and charisma. It puts Trevor Noah in more direct competition with a bunch of people that are more experienced than him at talking about American politics, like Colbert, like John Oliver, like Samantha Bee, whose show starts [Feb. 8], and like Larry Wilmore, whose show is on after [Noah's].

I guess you could ultimately say that Trevor Noah is in some ways a victim of the great alumni that "The Daily Show" has produced and that he's up against the legacy of the show itself.

Yeah, totally. All these people that came up on "The Daily Show" had a long time to hone what they were doing and figure out their voices as supporting players, before they got their own gigs. Colbert and Oliver are perfect examples of that.

Trevor Noah, on the other hand, is coming to it pretty cold, having to figure it out as the show's host, and you can see that he's new, young and fresh. Hopefully, he'll get it together, but he hasn't quite yet.

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