Good night and good luck, Mr. Noah. You'll need it -- but then anyone would.
As billed, and as expected, the new host of "The Daily Show" is attractive, charming, telegenic, confident and probably talented. Trevor Noah also began his run Monday with a candid admission -- that he never "dreamed growing up on a dusty street in South Africa" he'd ever have an indoor toilet and job as host of "The Daily Show."
"I now have both, and I'm comfortable with one of them."
Yup, and we can guess which one too.
Days after the speaker of the House had quit, with Washington in turmoil, Putin in town, Trump in the lead, and Hillary barely in the lead, fans of this franchise want rage and comedy. They want it served with comical high dudgeon, and also with a sense of self-awareness. A touch of self-abnegation would be nice too (because who's perfect anyway?). They want -- in other words -- Jon Stewart and have since Aug. 6, when he wrapped his 16-year run.
Instead, they now have Noah, and rage -- clearly -- is not his thing. Nor high dudgeon. The American political circus? He seemed iffy on that too. Monday night, Noah launched into a thank you to his predecessor, ran down a series of jokes -- including off-color ones about Pope Francis and Whitney Houston.
He had amusing encounters with in-house correspondents like Roy Wood Jr. and Jordan Klepper. Kevin Hart was the first guest -- no real problem there either, but no obvious reason why he was the first guest.
In fact, Noah's "Daily Show" at once felt confident but also oddly tentative. Smoothly delivered but uneven . . .
Not quite a rocky start, but not an emphatically comforting one for fans either.
Probably one reason for this farrago of hit and miss is the obvious. We subliminally expect to see Stewart sitting at that nice new desk (and why do new hosts always get new desks? What's wrong with the old piece of wood?) Yet there sat someone we hardly knew. There was a natural disconnect, or dissonance on our part, or my part anyway.
The other is that Noah inherited Stewart's writers -- along with their sensibilities, styles and ways of deconstructing jokes, like the long riff about John Boehner and the play on the name "John." (Stewart's name is spelled "Jon," not "John," so amusing as that exchange with Klepper may have been, it didn't quite work either). But Noah was telling those jokes, not Stewart. That felt odd too.
That Pope joke? No reason to get into here (the Post probably already has an outraged column on it). But those are the kind of jokes only a seasoned, and extremely well-known TV comic tries out, not the new guy. It wasn't funny either, so the risk/reward ratio was denfinitely out of kilter.
There was some good too. I liked a couple of the opening lines, liked especially the encounter with Roy Wood Jr. -- a standup who joined the show earlier this month. As Mars correspondent, they discussed the possibility of black people going to Mars. Per Wood, who got the better line,by far: "Black people ain't going to Mars [but] you've only had the Daily Show for one commercial break. These white people ain't decided they like you yet."
All in all, Monday night was a start, the most important hurdle for Noah to clear, and if he's not quite the proxy for Stewart -- and his progressive rage -- that most viewers want right now, that's probably OK too. Stewart wasn't Stewart when he began either. It just might be fun to see who Noah eventually becomes.