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Building his ark: Noah kicks off late night career

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By Matt Maielli / Staff Writer

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The stage may be new, but the “Daily Show” goes on all the same.

Last Monday, Trevor Noah, a comedian from South Africa and previous “Daily Show” senior international correspondent, went from correspondent to host as Jon Stewart’s 17-year tenure on the desk ended.

Fans, critics and everyone in between wondered how this change would play out after Stewart built the Comedy Central show into one of the smartest political satires on the air. The answer is a resounding “not too shabby.”

The show has the same intro, same theme, same structure and “Moments of Zen,” but Noah’s first week – right down to the guest list including Kevin Hart, Chris Christie and Ryan Adams – symbolized the new “Daily Show” as a whole.

Noah’s delivery is quicker than Stewart’s, but not out of anxiety. The first few monologues felt like Noah was doing a stand-up set, except he was seated with pictures. There was also a distinct lack of Noah’s promised focus on the online news cycle, a point he made in early press releases. Perhaps this focus is more of a goal than a starting point.

Also missing was some good old-fashioned Fox News mockery, one of Stewart’s favorite targets. It was a missed oppurtunity, as Fox host and Stewart-frenemy, Bill O’Reilly, has a new book out, “Killing Reagan: The Violent Assault That Changed a Presidency,” and that joke writes itself.

Otherwise, Noah showed viewers he can flip the coin from funny to serious when Thursday night’s show began with a message to the victims of the Oregon community college shooting, delivering the late night standard tragedy prompt “I guess I can do what I do best, and that is try and make people laugh.” In what was Noah’s first real challenge as host, he did his best Stewart impression by being candidly honest about himself.

“I haven’t had time to feel, let alone think, about everything that is happening,” he said, recalling all of Stewart’s straight-faced responses to gun violence.

Monday night kicked off with Noah praising Stewart’s work and influence, stating that Stewart was our “political dad,” acknowledging that it’ll take time to get used to his absence.   

“And it’s weird because dad has left. And now it feels like the family has a new step-dad — and he’s black,” Noah said.

Tuesday and Wednesday nights were a little heavier, tackling topics like the General Assembly of the United Nations, ISIS, Syria and the 2016 election, all accompanied by a confident chuckle from the host. Noah also coined the term “Panderdemic,” referring to politicians’ attempts to please everyone — read: voters. Noah took time to do some funny faces, voices, and traditional CNN bashing — all very Stewart-esque — with a joke that compared Wolf Blitzer to a broken iPad.

An interview with Whitney Wolfe, the founder and CEO of Bumble, a dating app in which women always make the first move, was thoroughly nervous, with Noah not establishing a rapport until almost the end. Wednesday’s field piece featuring correspondents from “The Best F–king News Team Ever,” Jordan Klepper and new African-American correspondent Roy Wood Jr., covering police bias was bold, approaching the story from two sides — black and white.

On Thursday night, Noah shined when he took an alternate look at republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. Trump jokes are starting to get stale — how many different ways can you make fun of his hair? But Noah instead let Trump speak for himself and compared him with clips of various African presidents/dictators saying eerily similar things — especially ex-Libyan Dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s speech declaring President Barack Obama a Muslim from Kenya.

The clips fit so well you’d think Trump was taking pointers. Noah finished the piece declaring, “But this great country is capable of bold leaps. It took one in 2008 when it elected its first black president and now in 2016, I say it is time to be bold once more and elect America’s first African president.”

The jab was Noah’s best act of the week and was reminiscent of his stand-up, which featured South African presidents, and therefore was close to home. It also recalled Stewart’s voracious takedown of Trump when he saw a clip of the real-estate mogul eating pizza, a New York staple, with a fork.

A later piece on Thursday featured another new correspondent, Desi Lydic, in which Noah tries to contain his unexplainably pumpkin-spice-crazed news team. The whole scene felt very reminiscent of the numerous times Stewart “lost control” of his news team.

Though Stewart hosted a variety of musical acts, Noah wants to bring on more beats. Thursday night’s musical guest was singer-songwriter Ryan Adams, who recently released a cover album of Taylor Swift’s 1989, symbolizing Noah’s earliest statements that he wants the show to emphasize more on music in the future than the previous “Daily Show.”

Overall, it still feels like the same show, but Noah adds a more international perspective — he speaks several languages and even showcased one of them in the Trump bit. His successful first week reinforces “The Daily Show” as an institution, Comedy Central’s career parallel to NBC’s “Saturday Night Live.”

Viewers who previously tuned in for Stewart’s wisdom will instead find Noah’s curiosity on display, and Noah likely won’t be “eviscerating” anyone anytime soon. Though his interviewing may need some polishing, his charming delivery and accent will likely keep him in the chair for some time.

So let him get comfortable.

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Building his ark: Noah kicks off late night career