This is an election year in which a racist billionaire and a democratic socialist, both prone to rants, are somehow viable candidates for their respective parties’ nominations. This is exactly the kind of news cycle that makes for great political satire. Comedy Central’s The Daily Show With Trevor Noah should be having a season for the ages. So why isn’t it? How did this program go from being one of the most vital things on television to being a pleasant also-ran? Slate’s TV criticWilla Paskin has been pondering this state of events, and she delivers her verdict in an editorial called “Why Are Americans Ignoring Trevor Noah?” As that title indicates, Paskin lays the blame for The Daily Show’s slide into irrelevance at the feet of the show’s current host, Trevor Noah, who has perhaps overcompensated in his efforts to distinguish himself from his cranky, deeply committed predecessor, Jon Stewart. According to Paskin, Stewart “turned himself gray trying to rain sanity, silliness, and outrage on the hypocrisy, mendacity, and idiocy that is our political discourse.”
But Noah is a different kind of comedian and a different kind of host, and under his leadership, The Daily Show has been aiming for young male viewers who are not particularly well informed or even that concerned about current politics. Paskin argues that the affable, breezy Noah is not capable of the kind of sharp political satire currently being produced by more experienced TV hosts like Larry Wilmore. Here, she unfavorably compares The Daily Show’s funny but disposable take on the Flint, Michigan water crisis to The Nightly Show’s more cutting commentary on the same events. To be fair, Paskin admits that Noah is still learning the ropes: “The four months Noah has been in charge of The Daily Showis nothing.” But the article does express some real concern that the show has become neutered at the worst possible time. “You still may laugh,” Paskin writes, “but an inessential Daily Show is a real loss.”
At some point, we're going to find ourselves in Springtime and the Daily Show will continue to be completely irrelevant to the political discussion in the United States of America. An executive at Comedy Central will snap his or her fingers and come to the realization that they picked a good guy to follow Jon Stewart. They just didn't pick the right guy.
This summer, someone will hand Stewart a big bag of money. Come back for the election, they'll say. Will he take the bag of money and slide back into the chair while they look for a real replacement? I have no idea. But if they want to make The Daily Show relevant again, they'll have to bring back Stewart so that he can restore the show to some semblance of watchable again, and they'll have to find the right host to take over permanently. If they don't find that person, and, really, it should have been Samantha Bee, then just end the thing already. Comedy Central screwed up, big time.
Trevor Noah was the right pick in every sense of the word, except one. He had no idea what makes the Daily Show essential to American political discourse.