It is a curious world we live in, where a fake newscaster is the king of real news. While the top-rated news anchor leaves in disgrace, it is the Comedy Central comedian who retires with a Cronkite-like following. Such contrasts are testaments to Jon Stewart’s talent—it is his natural charisma and hard work that transformed the Daily Show from a fringe comedy broadcast to a major staple of millennials’ media diets over the course of Stewart's 16-year hosting tenure.
A large part of Jon Stewart’s appeal stems from the way in which he has made news and politics accessible to a wide audience; through the Daily Show, Stewart has created a means of presenting serious issues in an entertaining and incisive manner. Heads of state, senators, Nobel Prize winners, and movie stars alike now appear on the show, turning the Daily Show into an invaluable source of information and entertainment for a wide audience, both at home and abroad. Stewart must be commended for his work, and he will surely be missed. Filling Stewart's shoes is sure to prove a difficult task. But until Stewart's replacement, Trevor Noah, has confronted that difficulty, judging his comedic ability is misplaced.
Noah is certianly untested: Noah was chosen after just three appearances on the Daily Show as a correspondent. Some have questioned the lack of women in comedy; others have questioned Noah’s Twitter account; others still have questioned his comedic ability and lack of experience. But even a comic great would have mammoth-sized shoes to fill, given the impact that Stewart has had. In truth, it is difficult to imagine how Noah can compete with the shadow of his predecessor, who has built one of this generation’s great cultural icons nearly from the ground up.
Ultimately though, we have yet to see who Noah will truly be as the host of the Daily Show. He will begin his tenure right as the 2016 presidential campaign and all its attendant mudslinging kicks into high gear; it is not inconceivable that the top story most nights will be about an electoral process in a country that he moved to only four years ago. Yet to be seen is his grasp on American culture and politics—vital for a show that, despite its international appeal, is firmly grounded as an American comedy program. Also uncertain are his interview skills, central to a third of each broadcast, his style of delivery, sense of humor, and presence. These are all attributes that separate the good comedians from the greats; we do not know yet whether Noah is one of the former or has the makings of the latter.
It is a far too early to know the answers to all these questions, and at this point the strong negative reaction to Noah’s appointment is far from warranted. When he takes over this fall or next spring, we will surely quickly discover the answers to all our most pressing Daily Show questions. But until then, we can only wonder about our fake news and laud Mr. Stewart for the tremendous job that he has done.
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