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'Daily Show': Give Trevor Some Time

So we get to know Trevor Noah a bit better tonight, as the 31-year-old comic assumes the host’s chair on The Daily Show at 11 p.m. What do we know about Noah thus far?

Honestly, not a heckuva lot. As we have read ad nauseum, he took some heat for tweets that were deemed sexist and not all that funny. He did a set coinciding with TCA in Los Angeles last summer that, by most accounts, was biting and flat-out funny. Noah had a spin in a Ferrari with Jerry Seinfeld, along with a cup of coffee and a bunch of laughs out in a Brooklyn neighborhood called Dumbo. He listens to jazz while he works, according to a NY Times profile.  

We don’t know much more. After all, that Times story notes Noah’s sparse office at his new job, which “reinforces the fact that, to American audiences, he is still a blank slate.”

It also reinforces the fact that he only recently moved into that office, and has not yet been deluged with the trinkets and tchotchkes one accumulates over time.

Noah was a sought-after man at HBO's hot post-Emmys party September 20; he couldn’t walk 10 feet without someone new buttonholing him. Full disclosure: That included me, who kidded him about his home nation of South Africa’s shocking loss to Japan the previous day in the Rugby World Cup, to which he responded that it’s good for South Africa to get a horrible loss out of the way early, while the tournament is still in pool play.

There’s a lesson there. Noah may have a few such mulligans, if we can mix our sports metaphors, in his early Daily Show tenure, before he finds his voice and his correspondents and writers find theirs. So a better read on the show will be available not at 11:30 tonight, or tomorrow morning, or the day after, or any time soon.

"If you look back at what Trevor has done over the years, it's clear he's a real and highly engaging talent,” says Mike Bloxham, senior VP of national TV and video at Frank N. Magid Associates. “He's the kind of guy who can carry a show and, with the kind of talent that is working with him, we can expect something that--once it settles into its rhythm--will be an objectively good show.”

One thing is certain—a biracial host from the townships of Johannesburg will bring a different perspective to politics, to humor, to life, than that of a guy from the suburbs of New York City, as Jon Stewart is.

It took Stewart time to find his voice after taking on Daily Show in 1999 from Craig Kilborn, though he was a notably fast learner. Wrote Peter Keepnews, then of the NY Times:

“Mr. Stewart holds it all together deftly. He interacts with the correspondents far more than Mr. Kilborn ever did, sending the message that even though its official name is now The Daily Show With Jon Stewart, the show is a team effort rather than a star vehicle. His celebrity interviews are sharper and funnier than Mr. Kilborn's were.”

We may also forget that Stewart was hardly a household name when he came on board 16 years ago, having hosted a litany of lightly watched shows, including MTV’s oddball user-generated You Wrote It, You Watch It, and a syndicated talker, The Jon Stewart Show, that bombed. Keepnews thought Stewart might use The Daily Show as a springboard back into the syndicated talker world. He wrote, “Perhaps one day he'll get another shot at it. For now, though, Mr. Stewart seems very much at home on The Daily Show.''

Stewart had the luxury of figuring out his show before digital and social media made every night a pass/fail test, and everyone a critic. Noah will have no such luxury.

The comparison with Stewart is as inevitable as it is unfair. “Trevor’s going to have his critics because he's not Jon Stewart,” says Bloxham, “but we'll only know how well he's doing in about five or six months’ time, in the middle of a week when nothing much is happening, and when the fuss and novelty has died down."

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.