When is ‘The Daily Show’ going to be good again?

Trevor Noah by Peter Yang
Trevor Noah

Trevor Noah took over The Daily Show on September 29, and has had four weeks of shows to get into the stride of things. And now he’s taken a week off. This may be because of the World Series and the Republican debates, but this is an awfully short first act to begin to really see where Noah and his producers want to go with the show.

He’s hired several new correspondents: Roy Wood, Jr, who seems to have a great deal of experience and knows what a Daily Show “correspondent” needs to do to be funny. Wood has appeared several times and has done a fine job. Also announced but barely showing are Desi Lydic who showed up once, and Australian comedian Ronny Chieng, who’s also made just one appearance.

Stalwart Jordan Klepper has been a regular and has really hit his stride as an excellent comedian and faux interviewer in the Daily Show mold. But we’ve seen Jessica Williams, one of the show’s undoubted stars only twice, and Hasan Minhaj is doing a Broadway show for the next few weeks. Aasif Mandvi is nominally on the staff, but we’ve not seen him at all that we can remember. And while Al Madrigal is still listed, we’ve seen him but once.

So while Klepper and Woods have been helping out, a lot of the Daily Show has just been Noah. And how is he doing? He’s…just…not…very…funny.

Perhaps it is his odd, halting delivery in a South African accent that’s at fault, or maybe the fact that despite the fact that the Daily Show is an American comedy show, Noah is really new to the U.S. and seems unfamiliar with so many things. He does not really come across as very warm or as very interesting: there’s something distant about him, and a bit too cool. He doesn’t get particularly riled up about the absurdities he is reporting and he doesn’t involve you very much in his delivery.

In fact, when you hear him reading jokes written by the same Daily Show writers as Stewart had, they just don’t land very well: he seems awkward with them.

While The Daily Show has in the past used cable news as a foil to make fun of politics, they’ve pretty much dropped the easy jokes you can make about Fox News, and made few about CNN or other networks either. This is supposed to make the show more easily transportable to other electronic media, but what really gives that a boost are great comic bits that show up on YouTube, and there just have not been very many of those.

OK, it’s only been a month and Noah will surely get better with more experience. The question is whether people will stay with him long enough. When Jon Stewart left, we knew there would be a big problem filling his chair because he’d had 16 years of practice making this show look easy. It’s not easy, and bringing in a foreign standup comedian with little American comedy experience has not made this an easy transition.

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