Although Comedy Central is promising more of the same (“Brand New Host. Brand Same Show”), we’re holding out hope that Noah will bring actual new perspectives to a show that felt like it was on cruise control by its end.
Websites will always get traffic from headlines about The Daily Show being the primary news source for college-aged Americans, etc. etc., even if FiveThirtyEight debunked the myth. True or not, what matters is that the show is perceived as an important, near-legitimate news source. Noah, thus, comes to Comedy Central somewhat obligated to uphold Stewart’s legacy.
1. Challenge His Audience
In an op-ed for The New York Times, Gerard Alexander argues that Stewart was too smug. Fox News viewers are often criticized for watching a network that parrots their beliefs back at them, but Stewart functioned as a similar mirror for liberals. He didn’t give all lefties a pass, but as Alexander writes, he would mock their “tactics and implementation but not their underlying assumptions or ideas.”
Noah is not at all likely to go out and side with “the other guys,” but he should challenge his viewers’ complacency. Both sides of the political spectrum are uncompromising, and each has its own set of issues about which they’re wrong. Noah’s being dropped into the upswing of the 2016 election campaigns. Jokes about Hilary’s email or Bernie’s “befuddled grandpa” look won’t cut it. Even if he’s got to imagine them as Rick Santorum in his underwear, Noah should bring a more nuanced perspective to politics that feels closer to home.
2. Talk About Race, Not Talking About Race
Noah’s most obvious physical difference from Stewart is that he’s black. If you didn’t realize that being not-white was a big deal in late-night TV, Vanity Fair showed you that, yes, it is.
Noah already has more lived experience about racial politics and racism than his predecessor, growing up mixed-race during Apartheid in South Africa. Stewart, quite smartly, talked about how we talk about race, criticizing Fox News, for instance, for its Ferguson coverage. We already know we talk too much without doing. Noah can cut out the middle man and address the root of the problem — whether that’s police brutality, wealth disparity, or the myriad issues of racism — more directly.
The Daily Show might be primarily focused on politics, but Noah should take the opportunity as a younger host to teach more. At 31, his generation grew up as the internet took form, and has been more aware of problems like climate change. Again, he can tackle issues head-on. Criticize people who get it wrong, but also show what is right. If that means bringing on celebs like Neil deGrasse Tyson or Bill Nye, we’re happy to have them.
4. International Politics
Noah is, notably, from South Africa. The Daily Show is an American institution, but learning to improve ourselves at home means seeing what’s going on elsewhere. Some of it’s good, some of it’s awful. But Noah should bring his international perspective to the news, understanding that we’re not all from the same background. They can still do those green screen “on-sight” reports, though.
5. More (Better) Musical Guests
Noah already has covers-phenom Ryan Adams scheduled as a first-week guest. He’s got to update the musical billing a bit, though, and make it more frequent. Colbert got Kendrick Lamar on the Report. Stewart was more of a Springsteen fanatic. It’s a small, seemingly tangential facet of the show, but if Drake (God willing) gets viewers to tune in for the more “important” parts of the show, the producers should cough up for better lineups.