Trevor Noah gets off to an uneven start as the new host of ‘The Daily Show’

Noah can do? The jury’s still out on The Daily Show’s new host.

Three stars

The Daily Show with Trevor Noah Monday-Thursday, 11 p.m., Comedy Central.

When Comedy Central announced Trevor Noah as Jon Stewart’s replacement as host of The Daily Show, the backlash was swift and a bit out of proportion, especially in response to some tasteless jokes Noah had made on Twitter in years past. A relative unknown, the South African comedian comes to The Daily Show with little baggage but also very little following of his own, and his first week on the job showed him to be affable but not particularly fiery, in contrast to the passion Stewart brought to his job as America’s comedic conscience.

Noah’s lack of exposure in the U.S. (he appeared only a handful of times as a Daily Show correspondent) is part of the reason he was hired, and his version of the show doesn’t differ much from the one Stewart hosted at the end of his tenure. The correspondents are a mix of newcomers and holdovers, and the tone remains mostly bemused outrage at the state of the world. Noah’s youthful good looks actually undermine some of the show’s satirical bite, his beaming smile a benign contrast to Stewart’s barely contained (or not at all contained) apoplexy.

It won’t be easy for Noah to carve out a unique identity for himself in a late-night landscape that includes shows hosted by four former Daily Show correspondents—Stephen Colbert on CBS’ The Late Show, John Oliver on HBO’s Last Week Tonight, Larry Wilmore on Comedy Central’s Daily Show lead-out The Nightly Show and Samantha Bee on TBS’ upcoming Full Frontal—and in his first four shows, his personality didn’t shine through often enough. He was awkward in his interviews, failing to give Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie much of a challenge, and bumbling through more superficial celebrity chats. But that’s a skill late-night hosts generally improve over time, and if nothing else Noah seems eager to please.

Noah’s South African background was the source of some throwaway self-deprecating jokes, but it also offered him the chance for his most distinctive segment of the first week, a bit comparing Donald Trump to various tyrannical African leaders. Like the best Daily Show segments, it was funny and insightful in equal measure, and it offered a fresh take on a potentially exhausted topic. It also showcased Noah’s unique perspective, something the show will need to strengthen if it’s going to be more than The Daily Show Without Jon Stewart.

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