I was a fan of Trevor Noah long before 99.9% of America knew of his very existence.
From the moment I first watched a standup clip of his—via the global unifier that is YouTube—I was smitten by this rarely seen genus of Comic Intelligentsia.
A really smart comedian.
One who is sharp, worldly and insatiably curious.
He quickly became one of the few comedians in the world I would pay to see live and solo on-stage…
The first time he appeared on The Daily Show, ever so briefly, I was excited to see he had landed on an even bigger stage—American television. But I also had a stirring in my gut…
That he was being set up to be Stewart’s successor.
Noah only appeared on the show a handful of times before the huge and fateful announcement that catapulted him into the American public eye… and scrutiny.
As he was a man from another country and a different political system, I had mixed feelings about him taking on The Daily Show... a place where many progressive Millennials get their news and political commentary.
I knew it would be tough going for him since he was not a beloved Daily Show household name like Stephen Colbert, Steve Carrell, John Oliver and Jessica Williams were before they made the jump to greater heights.
But I was quietly rooting for him. And hoped enough Daily Show fans would stick around to give him a chance.
I watched a few shows in the beginning and I thought, he’s stiff… he’s okay… he needs time to hit his stride.
When Stewart was the host, I would go through periods wherein I would watch him almost every day via Hulu or ComedyCentral.com; and then other periods wherein I would watch him every once in a while.
With Noah, despite being a true fan of his beforehand, I watch him every other blue moon.
And it was not until I happened upon a recent standup special of his that I figured out why…
In the standup special, Pay Back the Funny, filmed last year in South Africa, Noah is in his element. He’s charming. He’s engaging. He’s free. He’s 100-percent himself.
The way John Stewart was 100-percent himself in his later years as host on The Daily Show, having shaped the show to fit his quirks, interests and pet peeves—from Arby’s to Bill O’Reilly to, gasp, eating New York City pizza with a fork!
So I recently sat down to watch a full week of Daily Show episodes to contrast the Noah of that standup special to the Noah behind that blue and silver desk.
Having not watched an entire show in a long while, I could tell Noah has loosened up in his delivery of the news.
His interview technique has improved a bit.
And he has added a diversity of talent to his news squad.
At the end of my marathon watch, however, I was left with the distinct impression that, while Noah was deserving of a most-improved ribbon, this was still very much John Stewart’s show.
It has been a somewhat rocky first year for Noah ratings-wise. As was the case for Stewart when he took on the mantle back in 1999 (watch a clip from that inaugural show).
While it is hard to step into anyone’s shoes, it is damn near impossible to walk in their shoes as well.
Like Stewart, Noah must find his own way of hosting and shaping The Daily Show.
Comedy Central president Kent Alterman says the network is behind Noah 110-percent. And that may very well be true.
But the pressure is certainly on now that the mediocre The Nightly Show has been cancelled, leaving just one ‘person of color’ as the host of a national, late nite program in the melting pot that is America.
Being anchored behind a desk is not the best way to showcase Noah’s style.
Neither is his fastidious reliance on a teleprompter.
His strengths are gifted and natural storytelling; a genuine curiosity about the world, its people and its cultures; and a sharp way of studying and critiquing politics.
I do believe Noah is a solid choice to carry on the mantle of The Daily Show. Just look at how well he commands a discussion of American politics during this interview with MSNBC’s Tamron Hall:
Or how engaging and funny he is when totally off-script:
Yet, if Noah has any chance of surviving and thriving in late nite—especially when the 2016 election circus has passed—he will have to make the show fully his own.
Like his predecessor, Noah has the intelligence, personality and magnetism to foster an avid audience interested in his view of the world and his way of skillfully and playfully communicating that worldview.
And I think the best first step is for him to step out from behind that desk.
So he can deliver natural monologues or poignant off-prompter soapboxes that will engage, delight, challenge and empower young Americans coast-to-coast.
So I ask, with love and applause, will the real Trevor Noah please stand up?
Because that’s a show I definitely would watch on the daily.